Species Spotlight: American Ginseng

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: American Ginseng

American Ginseng

American Ginseng Photographed by Kerry Wixted on Flicker

Scientific Name: Panax quinquefolius
SARA status: Endangered Ontario: Endangered
Taxonomic Group: Perennial plant
Size: Up to 60 cm tall

American Ginseng is a perennial herb commonly used as herbal medicine. It is a light tan, gnarled root that often looks like a human body with stringy shoots for arms and legs. The single stem ends in a whorl of one to four or five leaves. Mature plants will have a cluster of 6-20 greenish-white flowers that produce bright-red berries.

American ginseng is effective in boosting the immune system and as an antioxidant. Many studies have shown that American ginseng may help reduce the risk of cancer and improve one’s mental performance and well-being. Native Americans used the root as a stimulant and to treat headaches, fever, indigestion and infertility.

Populations of American ginseng have decreased significantly in Ontario over the past century due to harvesting, timber extraction and the destruction of agricultural land and development. American ginseng generally reproduces very slowly, which makes it even harder to grow and harvest. It is currently widely grown in Ontario compared to other parts of North America. The American ginseng is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.

Where Else Can You See This Species?

In Ontario, American ginseng grows in rich, moist but well-drained deciduous woods dominated by Sugar Maple, White Ash and American Basswood. It typically grows in deep, nutrient rich soil over limestone or marble bedrock. The range of American ginseng extends from southwestern Quebec and eastern and central Ontario.

Did You Know?

  • Several studies found that American ginseng lowers blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes
  • American ginseng has been shown to inhibit tumor growth.
  • The largest wild ginseng root, found in Michigan, weighed 1.2 kg

 

Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes.
You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and a location are very helpful!

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We would like to thank our guest blogger Kelsey Ha for this post. Kelsey is a high school student volunteer at Nature Canada and is interested in biology and environmental sciences.