What is Aralia?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Aralia, commonly called spikenard, is a genus of 68 species of tree and shrub native to parts of Asia and the Americas. The plants feature white to green flowers maturing into purple, berry-like fruits. Most species grow in mountainous woodlands. Aralia can range from 20 inches (50 cm) to 66 feet (20 meters) in height, depending on the species. There are deciduous, evergreen, and perennial plants within the genus.

Aralia californica, also called California spikenard or elk clover, is the only member of the genus native to western and central California and southwestern Oregon. It grows particularly in moist, cool environments, such as the San Francisco Bay Area. The root of the plant is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for cough or inflammation.

Aralia nudicaulis, with common names including false sarsaparilla and rabbit root, is native to northern and eastern North America. It resembles sarsaparilla and poison ivy in appearance. Another North American species is Aralia racemosa or American spikenard, which grows throughout the eastern United States and is cultivated as an ornamental plant. Aralia spinosa, commonly called devil's walking stick or angelica tree, is native to eastern North America. It is cultivated for the exotic appearance of its palm-like leaves, which can also be eaten as a potherb when young.


Aralia cordata, also known as udo and Japanese spikenard, is native to parts of Japan, China, and Korea. It is sometimes used for its medicinal purposes, and the stem is also eaten, particularly in miso soup. When the plant is infested with the larvae of the Japanese beetle, its leaves are used to make udowormy tea, which is believed to alleviate stress.

Aralia elata, or Japanese angelica tree, is native to parts of Japan, China, Korea, and Russia. It is cultivated for its exotic appearance, and prefers loamy soils and partial shade, though it will tolerate full sunlight. A. elata has become an invasive species in the northeastern United States, where it was introduced in 1830. The young shoots of the plant are eaten in Japanese and Korean cuisines, where they are often fried.

A. chinensis, also called Chinese spikenard, and A. stipulata are both native to China. A. dasyphylla grows in China and Southeast Asia. A. debilis and A. tibetana both grow only in China and are of vulnerable conservation status. Another vulnerable species is A. malabarica, with a geographical range limited to India.


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