Be The First On Your Block to Grow American Spikenard!

Here’s something new for your shady garden: American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa).

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This is a big woodland perennial native to a large swath of Eastern and Central North America, from Quebec to Manitoba and from Georgia to Texas.

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American Spikenard has been growing in my garden for two summers and so far I am pleased with it. It is a big plant growing up to 5′ tall, though mine is under 3′ this year. It has dark stems and bold, heart-shaped leaflets.

A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.
A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.

In mid-summer it has interesting-looking racemes of tiny greenish white flowers. While the individual flowers may not look like much to most people, they do attract a variety of native bees, including some really tiny ones.

American Spikenard berries
American Spikenard berries

Later in the summer there are berries that I think are extremely ornamental as they turn from green to purple. The berries are attractive to birds.

A closer look
A closer look

A virtue of American Spikenard is that it can take over after ephemeral spring flowers have faded away. Also, it is supposed to be quite adaptable as to soil. It likes moist, fertile woodlands best, but a variety of sources say it will grow (less imposingly) in dryer and leaner locations.

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I grow pots and pots of Marigolds (Tagetes patula) and Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), so I am not a plant snob. However, this plant is really underused, and there is an innocent pleasure in growing an unfamiliar plant that will excite questions from your gardening friends and neighbors – as happened with American Spikenard when my garden was on the Wild Ones tour.

This provides one last reason, if you need one, to give this woodland wildling a try.

46 Comments on “Be The First On Your Block to Grow American Spikenard!”

  1. I grow Aralia californica, it’s west coast relative, and I love it! It also does well in dry shade, under my Douglas firs. I’ve had it for 5 years, and it gets about 5-6 feet tall every summer. The berries are so dark purple, they’re nearly black.

  2. One of the things I love about native plants — there are SO MANY of them, and so many that are underused as well. I guess gardeners are just attracted to exotics, not always the best choice as most of us have already discovered. I have not grown this one in my home garden but it does grow on property I own in Wisconsin. I usually see it at the base of a road cut or ravine where it might pick up additional moisture. It is a delight to see for sure!

  3. Thanks for the introduction. I think I have heard of this, but I have never seen it. I love it, and I appreciate the need to use more of our lovely natives. I think it would be perfect for my Alabama woodland!

  4. I don’t think it demands a limestone soil. I grew spikenard in my Toronto garden, on the near-neutral Toronto clay,where the plants seemed to be fine, but I collected the seeds from an area around a friend’s cottage, where spikenard grew very abundantly. The cottage was north of Parry Sound on very acidic soil: blueberries, blue bead lilies, and pink lady slipper orchids were also abundant there. The spikenards were certainly well behaved. The seedlings are slow to get going and the plants seem to be tap-rooted and stay put. I never saw any volunteers in my Toronto garden. I am starting some more spikenard seedlings for my much larger country garden in western Quebec. It is a fine plant and we want to grow lots more berries for birds.

  5. I just discovered American Spikenard in a recent visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and knew immediately that I had to have it! When I visited my favorite shade nursery last week, I inquired about it. He didn’t have any in stock but will have it again in the spring, when I plan to add it to my serenity garden, where it will replace some Actea that have never been happy there.

  6. Pingback: First day of summer | Overlook Circle

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