May 24 2014
This plant is hard to look up if you say it the way I do: sass-pa-rilla. My pronunciation eliminates two critical letters at the beginning of the word. Fortunately Google anticipated my mistake and offered sar-sa-pa-rilla when I spelled it without the additional “R” and “A.”
Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is common in rich woods in northeastern North America. Even when it’s blooming you’ll notice its leaves first. They’re more than a foot tall and grow on a long stem that splits into three compound leaves. (Click here to see.)
The flowers are arranged as an echo of the leaves but because the flower and leaf stems grow directly from the ground they appear to be unrelated plants. Follow the stems and you’ll see.
In a typical year wild sarsaparilla would be blooming today but in this cold spring it’s probably delayed. Look for it in the Laurel Highlands.
(photo by Dianne Machesney)