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Araliaceae: Ginseng Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Araliaceae
Plants of the Ginseng Family

      The next time you see a building covered with ivy (Hedera), stop and notice the umbels of flowers or berries. Note that they form single umbels, not compound like the closely related Parsley family. These plants typically produce very small, greenish-white flowers with 5 small, separate sepals, 5 (sometimes 4 or 10) separate petals and usually 5 stamens (sometimes 3 to numerous). The stamens are alternate with the petals. The flowers are regular and may be either unisexual or bisexual. The ovary is positioned inferior. It consists of 5 (sometimes 2 to 15) united carpels (syncarpous) with the partition walls present, forming an equal number of chambers. It matures as a red or purple berry with one seed per carpel. The fruit splits apart at the carpels in some species. Some species produce flowers and berries in dense heads or elongated spikes. The plants of this family prefer moist environments. Worldwide, there are 70 genera and 700 species. Volatile oils are common in the Ginseng family, useful as diaphoretics to stimulate sweating.

      English ivy (Hedera helix) also contains volatile oils and it is very bitter. It has been used externally to treat dermatitis, inflammations and burns. Ivy has been used internally to expel parasites and to treat gout, rheumatism and bronchitis, but caution is advised since the plant is mildly toxic, probably due to the triterpene saponins. Schefflera is a common houseplant. Note that ginger (Zingiber) is in a separate family, Zingiberaceae.

Key Words: Plants of the damp forest with umbels (not compound) and berries.

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Aralia nudicaulis. Wild Sarsaparilla or Spikenard.

Aralia nudicaulis. Wild Sarsaparilla or Spikenard.
Glacier National Park, Montana.

Seven-Finger: Schefflera digitata.

Seven-Finger: Schefflera digitata.
Native to New Zealand.

Five-Finger: Pseudopanax arboreus.

Five-Finger: Pseudopanax arboreus.

Five-Finger: Pseudopanax arboreus.

Five-Finger: Pseudopanax arboreus.
Native to New Zealand.

Horoeka / Lancewood: Pseudopanax crassifolius.

Horoeka / Lancewood: Pseudopanax crassifolius.

Horoeka / Lancewood: Pseudopanax crassifolius.

Horoeka / Lancewood: Pseudopanax crassifolius.
Native to New Zealand.

There are more
Ginseng Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.


Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Living
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Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
Participating
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Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
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Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
in a Day
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Shanleya's
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