Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Pavek, Diane S. 1993. Aralia nudicaulis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of wild sarsaparilla is Aralia
nudicaulis L. [39,57]. It is a member of the ginseng family
(Araliaceae). There are no subspecies, varieties, or forms.
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Wild sarsaparilla is distributed from Newfoundland south to North
Carolina and west through the Great Plains [39,48,110,116,120]. Its
range continues in Canada to British Columbia and in the United States
through the Intermountain West to northeastern Washington [34,54,57].
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir - spruce
AR CO CT GA ID IL IN IA KY ME
MD MA MI MN MO MT NE NH NJ NY
NC OH PA RI SD TN VT VA WA WV
WI WY AB BC MD NB NF NS ON PQ
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar - hemlock - pine forest
K014 Grand fir - Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K018 Pine - Douglas-fir forest
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce - balsam fir
34 Red spruce - Fraser fir
35 Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
42 Bur oak
44 Chestnut oak
46 Eastern redcedar
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
58 Yellow-poplar - eastern hemlock
60 Beech - sugar maple
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
218 Lodgepole pine
227 Western redcedar - western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
236 Bur oak
237 Interior ponderosa pine
251 White spruce - aspen
252 Paper birch
253 Black spruce - white spruce
254 Black spruce - paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Wild sarsaparilla is a widespread, dominant understory species
throughout the boreal coniferous and mixed-wood forests [8,13,26,27,
67,77,88]. It is a major understory species of the chestnut oak
(Quercus prinus) type and sugar maple-beech (Acer saccharum-Fagus
grandiflora) and the bottomland cottonwood or cottonwood-birch
associations of the Great Plains [16,33,46,70,87,102]. Wild
sarsaparilla is an indicator species in several phases of western
redcedar (Thuja plicata), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and
subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) habitat type series
Numerous classifications use wild sarsaparilla as a dominant or
indicator understory species, including the following:
(1) Classification of the forest vegetation of Wyoming 
(2) Field guide habitat classification system for Upper Peninsula of
Michigan and Northeast Wisconsin 
(3) Native woodland habitat types of southwestern North Dakota 
(4) Classification of quaking aspen stands in the Black Hills and Bear
Lodge Mountains 
(5) Classification and gradient analysis of forest vegetation of Cape
Enrage, Bic Park, Quebec .
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Wild sarsaparilla is browsed by livestock and wildlife . Grizzly
and black bear consume the fruits [73,104,105,106]. Wild sarsaparilla
is frequently browsed in summer by caribou, and it is a preferred spring
food of moose [12,28,36]. In Minnesota, use of wild sarsaparilla by
ruffed grouse occurs throughout the year . Wild sarsaparilla seeds
have been found in the stomachs of thrushes . White-tailed deer in
northeastern Minnesota used wild sarsaparilla 18 percent of the time
during feeding in June . Wild sarsaparilla was so heavily browsed
by white-tailed deer on Fire Island National Seashore, New York, during
periods of overpopulation that it was only found in deer exclosures or
within dense thickets .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
The current year's growth of wild sarsaparilla in Manitoba had 11.1
percent crude protein, 34.1 percent acid detergent fiber, and 63.4
percent dry matter digestibility . It had only 1 percent dry
matter digestibility on Isle Royale, Michigan . Leaf dry matter
contained 1.2 percent nitrogen .
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
The Nuxalk of east-central British Columbia collected wild sarsaparilla
rhizomes for food from May to September . The rhizomes have been
used to make beverages such as root beer [48,75,116].
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
After 6 years, wild sarsaparilla was infrequent to numerous on various
logged areas (370 acres [150 ha] logged in alternate strips, a 32-acre
[80 ha] clearcut, and an 81-acre [200 ha] clearcut) . Winter and
spring clearcuts had significantly (p<0.05) less wild sarsaparilla
biomass 2 years after logging compared to an uncut control . Three
years after clearcutting, wild sarsaparilla had higher frequency (22.5
percent) on sites prepared by V-blade than on sites prepared by toothed
brush rake (7.5 percent) or disking (2.5 percent) . Wild
sarsaparilla decreased on clearcuts and shelterwood cuts in areas open
0.25 mile (0.4 km) or more in virgin western white pine (Pinus
monticola)-western redcedar in northern Idaho, possibly due to increased
air and soil temperatures and evaporation [79,80]. Data on wild
sarsaparilla abundance have been used in multiple regression models for
predicting forest site quality for regeneration of spruce-fir, lodgepole
pine (Pinus contorta), and white spruce (Picea glauca) [78,121,124].
Two years after a clearcut was mulched with various straws, wild
sarsaparilla was less frequent in mulch treatments (8.3 percent) than in
controls (10 percent) .
In ecological classifications that are useful for biomass and
productivity estimates, wild sarsaparilla had average rank abundances
between 0.2 and 1.3 in northwestern Michigan . Wild sarsaparilla
was included in a suitability index for summer food for black bear in
the upper Great Lakes Region . Herbivory can reduce the number of
wild sarsaparilla flowering stems and fruit production. Clipped shoots
produced significantly (p<0.005) fewer fruits and smaller leaves
compared to intact shoots. One year later, chance of flowering and leaf
production were significantly (p<0.05) less . Wild sarsaparilla was
indirectly affected by aerial spraying for spruce budworm in New
Brunswick. Wild sarsaparilla had lower fruit set in sprayed areas
compared with unsprayed .
Fruit collection, seed extraction, and nursery methods have been
discussed in detail . Wild sarsaparilla top-growth increased but
stem density did not after shoot removal and rhizome transplantation
into uniform soils during summer .
Wild sarsaparilla was the most common forb in an area impacted by metal
aerosols from a zinc smelter in Pennsylvania. Wild sarsaparilla was
generally chlorotic . In a boreal forest in Ontario, wild
sarsaparilla leaves were significantly (p<0.005) less able to neutralize
simulated acid raindrops at pH 3.8 or 5.6 .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Wild sarsaparilla is a native, dioecious, perennial forb [36,39]. It
has long rhizomes that are between 1.2 and 4.7 inches (3-12 cm) deep in
the mineral soil, with an average depth of 2.4 inches (6 cm) . Wild
sarsaparilla is acaulescent; vegetative shoots may be up to 27.6 inches
(70 cm) tall with two to three compound leaves [34,36,54]. Reproductive
shoots are shorter with two to seven umbels . There is an average
of five seeds per fruit [10,48].
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Wild sarsaparilla forms extensive colonies by vegetative reproduction
[11,116]. Its rhizomes branch and can produce ramets up to 39 inches (1
m) from the original plant .
An exclusion experiment showed that wild sarsaparilla was dependent on
insects such as bumblebees, solitary bees, and syrphids for pollination.
Germination rates with or without stratification are low (34 percent)
. Seedling establishment probably occurs rarely and is dependent on
major disturbances . Wild sarsaparilla seedbanks under canopies of
stands aged 3 to 75 years since disturbance yielded 28 seeds that had 18
percent germination . Wild sarsaparilla seed rain and seedbank were
measured following canopy removal of mature northern hardwood forest in
north-central New Hampshire. One year after harvest, 1.3 wild
sarsaparilla seeds germinated from soil samples; no fruits were
collected in seedtraps during 2 years of sampling .
Seeds are disseminated by animals such as birds and black bears [73,91].
While 61 percent of the flowers in a wild sarsaparilla population in New
Brunswick set fruit, 95 percent of the fruits were consumed .
Germination rates for wild sarsaparilla seeds taken from black bear scat
(62-93 percent) were significantly (p<0.01) higher than for uneaten
seeds (27-28 percent) .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Wild sarsaparilla has a relatively wide ecological amplitude . It
is common in moist or dry woodlands, thickets, riparian areas, and
prairie or bog edges [22,29,39,76,84,110]. It may occur on sand plains
or dunes, rocky ridges, and canyon sides [55,126].
Wild sarsaparilla is found in continental climates that are subhumid to
humid and may be influenced by maritime air masses [7,47,93,100,101].
Winters are long and cool to cold; summers are short and warm [4,9].
Moderate amounts of precipitation occur throughout its range, varying
from 16.1 to 65 inches (409-1,650 mm) [7,64].
Wild sarsaparilla is found on all aspects and slopes . Textures of
the soils on which it occurs range from fine loamy clay to coarse loam
[4,42,67,70]. Soils are moderate to rich in nutrients [18,35,112].
Sites are poorly drained to well drained . Wild sarsaparilla occurs
at low to mid-elevations (2,500 to 4,700 feet [760-1,433 m]) in Montana
and Idaho and up to 8,000 feet (2,438 m) in Colorado [24,53,81,102]. In
the northeastern United States, it is found at elevations ranging from
680 to 2,995 feet (198-913 m) .
Species commonly associated with wild sarsaparilla are broadleaf arnica
(Arnica latifolia), bigleaf aster (Aster macrophyllus), bunchberry
(Cornus canadensis), queencup beadlily (Clintonia uniflora), and Canada
mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) [53,61,99,101]. Often, oakfern
(Gymnocarpium dryopteris) and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) are
found with wild sarsaparilla [9,24].
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Facultative Seral Species
Wild sarsaparilla is shade tolerant . In mixed-hardwood stands in
New Brunswick aged 7 to 37 years, wild sarsaparilla frequency increased
with stand age . Wild sarsaparilla was distributed at three plants
per 269 square feet (3 plants/25 sq m) in a 20-year-old eastern white
pine (Pinus strobus) stand in Vermont . In a spruce-fir stand in
Maine where trees averaged 60 or more years old, wild sarsaparilla
occurred with 21 percent frequency on plots .
Wild sarsaparilla is a characteristic forb of a wide range of climax
forests [25,49]. It occurred in plots with differing amounts of canopy
closure in late successional stands of western hemlock-western redcedar
stands in northern Idaho . The frequency of wild sarsaparilla
varied across western hemlock-western redcedar stands aged less than 50
years to more than 400 years old [50,51]. In old-growth (200-560 years)
eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in northwestern Pennsylvania, wild
sarsaparilla frequency averaged 2 percent in plots . In older seral
to climax stages of sugar maple-basswood stands aged 100 to 165 years,
wild sarsaparilla had 1 to 3 percent cover measured over 7 years .
However, in an old-growth eastern hemlock-northern hardwoods forest in
Michigan, frequency of wild sarsaparilla was higher in treefall gaps
(4.4 percent) than under closed canopy (2.2 percent) . On sand
dunes at Lake Michigan, Michigan, wild sarsaparilla was only present
under black oak (Quercus velutina) on older, stabilized dunes, aged 600
to 1,100 years .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Wild sarsaparilla emerges from leaf litter by mid-April or May, and
leaves expand before the canopy closes [23,30]. It flowers from May to
July throughout its range [76,110,120]. Fruits mature in about 32 days
. Leaves begin to drop by mid-September. Wild sarsaparilla is
dormant during the winter .
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Mineral soil protects wild sarsaparilla rhizomes from most fires .
Wild sarsaparilla occurs in communities with diverse fire regimes. In
Saskatchewan, it is a dominant understory component in aspen-birch
forests that experience frequent fires . Wild sarsaparilla occurs in
the understory of mixed woods in New Brunswick where fires occur every 9
to 45 years . It is common in aspen-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga
menziesii) stands in the Black Hills, South Dakota, that have fire
return intervals of 80 to 90 years . Wild sarsaparilla is
codominant with queencup beadlily in the moist lower elevation habitat
types of subalpine fir series where fires are infrequent and severe
[31,41]. Wild sarsaparilla is present in woodland communities, such as
black oak in Indiana, that are present due to fire suppression since the
time of settlement .
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Geophyte, growing points deep in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire top-kills wild sarsaparilla; vegetative and reproductive buds are
destroyed. Surviving rhizomes sprout and vigorously grow following fall
or spring fires. New rhizomes are produced. Flowers are not initiated
during the first growing season following fire . Very few wild
sarsaparilla come in as seed immediately following fire . Following
a light- to moderate-severity lightning fire in April, wild sarsaparilla
plants sprouted from surviving rhizomes; no seeds germinated . After
a July prescribed fire, surviving wild sarsaparilla sprouted within 2
weeks and was common on all sites. It did decrease in cover, however,
and in community importance .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Wild sarsaparilla has been classified as a decreaser. It initially
decreases in frequency and biomass following fire [72,113]. The amount
of decrease does not depend on the type of fire (headfire or backfire)
but does depend on fire intensity and time of burning . Wild
sarsaparilla generally decreases in frequency by about 50 percent 1 year
following fire. Within 4 years, wild sarsaparilla can recover, with an
increase in frequency ranging from 50 to 90 percent of preburn levels
[1,97]. Two years after fire in northern Ontario, there was a
three-fold increase in frequency of wild sarsaparilla . In the red
pine (Pinus resinosa) and eastern white pine forests of the Lake States,
wild sarsaparilla does well following fire and is prevalent on fresh
burns . After various silvicultural methods combined with
prescribed burning, the density of wild sarsaparilla usually decreased
compared to logging without burning or to control treatments
Wild sarsaparilla had less biomass (1.31 stems/sq m) compared to the
control (3.77 stems/sq m) when a winter clearcut in northern Minnesota
was followed by summer burning . One year after a wildfire in
northern Idaho, wild sarsaparilla sprouted in one out of 21 sites. It
entered communities only at postfire years 9 and 10 in low densities of
0.2-2 sq m/0.01 ha . Following two successive annual, low-severity
fires in Ontario, wild sarsaparilla decreased in density from preburn
levels. Surviving plants decreased following the second fire from 172
stems per hectare to 21 stems per hectare. One year after the fires,
wild sarsaparilla began to increase .
In northern Michigan, wild sarsaparilla had peak frequency at postfire
year 31 . Thirty-three years after fire in northeastern Minnesota,
it occurred on all plots with an average frequency of 57 percent .
Following a light-severity surface fire in Ontario, wild sarsaparilla
only occurred on two sites aged 25 and 50 years and had importance
values of 3.6 and 2.0, respectively . The average cover of wild
sarsaparilla was measured over 80 years on burned-over jack pine-black
spruce (Pinus banksiana-Picea mariana) in northeastern Minnesota. Wild
sarsaparilla remained at 1 to 2 percent cover until postfire year 15; it
increased to 8 to 12 percent cover from postfire years 15 to 80 .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
The Research Project Summary Understory recovery after burning and
reburning quaking aspen stands in central Alberta provides information
on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species
including wild sarsaparilla.
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Summer moisture content of wild sarsaparilla averaged 253 percent in
northeastern Minnesota. These data were used to assess flammability and
test the herbaceous fuel moisture algorithm of the National Fire Danger
Rating System . Wild sarsaparilla does not contribute much volume
to fine fuels since it decomposes relatively rapidly; leaf organic
matter had decreased by 37.4 percent after 4 months . Ground
vegetation that included wild sarsaparilla was used to develop
regression equations for predicting changes in forest floor moisture
SPECIES: Aralia nudicaulis
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