4 Facts to Keep You Up to Date with the American Ginseng: Species at Risk Series
Species at risk are plants and animals that may be lost forever if we don’t act soon.
Our monthly Species at Risk Series explores which ones are found in the Ottawa Valley and what we can do to protect them.
This month, we’re focusing on the American Ginseng.
This plant’s scientific name is Panax quinquefolius.
This wild perennial plant is endangered in Ontario and threatened in Quebec, meaning it can still be found in the wild but faces imminent extinction or extirpation.
What does American Ginseng look like?
American Ginseng is considered a perennial herb. It can grow as high as 60 centimetres tall but may take many years to reach reproductive maturity.
Its root resembles a parsnip, and the stem may have up to five leaves. Each individual leaf typically has five leaflets.
You’ll find a cluster of 6 to 20 greenish-white flowers alongside the leaves and at the top, bright red berries.
Where is it found across the Ottawa Valley?
This perennial plant can be found in southwestern Quebec and southern Ontario.
Specifically, American Ginseng thrives in rich, moist, mature, deciduous woods. If you can spot Sugar Maple, White Ash, or American Basswood in those woods, you’ll likely find American Ginseng nearby.
How is American Ginseng used in Indigenous cultures?
Indigenous peoples have traditionally used American Ginseng for medical purposes, ranging from treating headaches and earaches to more serious ailments, including tuberculosis.
What threats does American Ginseng face?
When American Ginseng was first discovered in the 1700s, it quickly became a critical Canadian export. Since then, the perennial plant has been over-harvested and poached to the point of becoming endangered.
Because of the plant’s low reproductive potential, harvesting for commercial purposes is a major concern.
Habitat destruction from clearing and logging also threaten American Ginseng.
What can you do to protect American Ginseng?
If you come across this plant in the wild, please do not divulge its location. This will help mitigate its potential harvesting or other threats.
You can also support the conservation of mature hardwood forests in your community, where American Ginseng is likely to be found.
Lastly, sign up for our newsletter to learn how we’re protecting this threatened plant and how you can get involved.