Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the the August 30, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

For some time I've been watching certain bushy plants developing in moist, usually shaded, often streamside situations, and I've been looking forward to seeing their flowers so I could figure out who they were. From the first I had them pegged as members of the Parsley Family, the Apiaceae, because their thrice-divided leaves were typical of that family, somewhat like a parsnip's leaves. Few members of that family grow this large, however. These plants average about six feet high and the five-ft-long leaves' individual leaflets are wider than the palm of an open hand. You can see the plant's flowers, fruits and some leaflets above.

The problem with this being a member of the Parsley Family is that fruits in that family are dry, usually ribbed or winged, and typically flattened or slender. These fruits are more or less spherical, as shown below:


If a plant looks like a member of the Parsley Family but has fruits like this, it's a member of the Ginseng or Aralia Family, the Araliaceae. In fact, this is Elk Clover, ARALIA CALIFORNICA, and of course it has nothing to do with real clover. Easterners might be familiar with the Devils-Walking-Stick or Hercules Club, Aralia spinosa, of the same genus. Each of those berries contains 3-5 seeds. The plant, an herbaceous perennial, occurs in cooler, moister parts of western and central California and here in southwestern Oregon.

Sometimes this species is also called the California Spikenard, reflecting its close relationship to the American Spikenard, Aralia racemosa of eastern North America. American Spikenard is regarded as an important medicinal plant, and it's the same with our western species. Elk Clover root extracts are used as a natural alternative to such commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs as Ibuprofen and Piroxicam. One website recommends it especially for leg cramps. Other uses include serving as a douche and a cough suppressant.