Aralia hispida fruits

Bristly Sarsaparilla

While gazing to the rocky shores of the Georgian Bay in Killarney, one plant kept drawing my attention (and camera) – the bristly sarsaparilla: Aralia hispida. Growing in any small crack of the big granite boulders, with shiny leaves and blackish fruits proudly swinging in the wind, it made me think, again, how many wonderful, garden-worthy, but underutilized native plants are around.

Drought resistant, growing in full sun in rocky, poor substrates, this Aralia could be a prized plant for any garden. The leaves are twice pinnately-divided, and the stem base is covered by bristly hairs and becomes woody persisting through the winter. White-cream flowers appear in June-July in round umbels on stalks that diverge at the end of the stems; they are followed by purplish black fruits resembling a bit the elder fruits (hence the other popular name: dwarf elder). The inflorescences stalks become red, making a nice contrast with the black fruits towards the fall. But enough talk, the pictures are always more convincing…


Not to be confounded with Sarsaparilla – the common name used for various species of Smilax (greenbriers), more particularly for Smilax regelii.