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American Ginseng

Panax quinquefolius

Panax quinquefolius
American ginseng habitat
Panax quinquefolius

State Heritage Status Rankings

Alabama (S4), Arkansas (S4), Connecticut (S3), Delaware (S2), District of Columbia (SH), Georgia (S3), Illinois (S3?), Indiana (S3), Iowa (S3), Kansas (SR), Kentucky (S4), Louisiana (S1), Maine (S2), Maryland (S3), Massachusetts (S3), Michigan (S2/S3), Minnesota (S3), Mississippi (S3), Missouri (S4), Nebraska (S1), New Hampshire (S2), New Jersey (S2), New York (S4), North Carolina (S4), Ohio (SR), Oklahoma (S1), Pennsylvania (S4), Rhode Island (S1), South Carolina (S2/S3), South Dakota (S1), Tennessee (S3/S4), Vermont (S2/S3), Virginia (S4), West Virginia (S3/S4), Wisconsin (S4)


American ginseng is a perennial glabrous, herbaceous species originating from a fusiform root with a 2 to 6 dm stem. Its leaves are 3 to 4 with 3 to 5 leaflets that are elliptic or obovate, acuminate, serrate and up to 15 cm in length by 8 cm in width. The leaf base is oblique and petioluate. The peduncles are 2 to 25 cm in length and the pedicels are up to 12 mm in length. From May to June, the species produces flowers with obsolete sepals or either up to 0.2 mm in length, petals 0.5 to 1 mm in length, and styles approximately 1 to 2 mm in length. From August to October, a fruit (drupe) is produced approximately 10 mm in diameter and red in color (Radford et. al. 1986).


American ginseng primarily inhabits rich, mesic woods, often on slopes, over a limestone or marble parent material. The species requires adequate moisture (but not wet hollows or swamps) and a closed canopy. Common associate herbaceous species include bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), black cohosh (Cimicifuga spp.), maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), and yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium pubescens) (NatureServe 2003).


American ginseng occurs from Maine, west to Ontario and perhaps Manitoba, and south to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kansas. It is most characteristic of the Appalachian and Ozark regions. American ginseng occurs at generally low densities over a very broad range, with a modern total population of perhaps a billion plants. However, population sizes of this plant have decreased considerably since European settlement, primarily because of extensive digging of its roots for commercial sale (NatureServe 2003). In Louisiana, ginseng is only known from the Tunica Hills Region at Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area located north of St. Francisville, Louisiana. Recent surveys by the author and the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program have failed to relocate extant and new population of this species in Louisiana.

In a comprehensive survey on Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, the average ginseng population included 50 individuals. The largest population was 1000 individuals over a distance of 40-50 acres. A two-year survey and field-validated modeling study in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the largest protected area for ginseng, estimated that 51,195 plants occur there. However, when the total area of suitable habitat was incorporated into the model, 212,559 plants were estimated to occur (NatureServe 2003).


  • NatureServe. 2003. Internet Resource. NatureServe.

  • Patrick, T.S., Allison, J.R., and Krakow, G.A. 1995. Protected Plants of Georgia: AN INFORMATION MANUAL ON PLANTS DESIGNATED BY THE STATE OF GEORGIA AS ENDANGERED, THREATENED, RARE, OR UNUSUAL. Georgia Natural Heritage Program. Internet Resource. Protected Plants of Georgia.

  • Radford, A.E., Ahles, H.E., Bell, C.R. 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

  • USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. Internet Resource USDA Plants Database. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

  • Weakley, A.S. July 2002. Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia, Working Draft. Internet Resource. Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia.