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Wild American Ginseng


American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L. [Araliaceae]), a native plant species of North American eastern woodlands, is highly sought for its medicinal value. The long-lived perennial herb reaches a maximum height of about 50 cm (20 in) and annually grows a determinate shoot from a short underground rhizome atop a fleshy taproot. Ginseng harvesters remove the root, which kills the plant. Commercial harvesting of wild ginseng plants has occurred since the 1700s. Continued pressure for wild harvested roots potentially threatens to diminish the size and number of populations in many states in the US, and the species faces possible extirpation in others. The Nature Conservancy's Natural Heritage ranking of the species globally changed in 2000 from "common" to "rare/common." Fewer than half the US states and Canadian provinces rank the species "apparently secure." Seeds are the sole means of reproduction and relatively few seeds are produced before plants are vulnerable to harvest. The trend may be to harvest younger plants as ginseng populations are depleted of larger plants by harvesting and as number and size of populations decline. Balancing commercial demands with actions necessary to preserve the species should dictate our behavior. Fortunately, we know more about the biology of ginseng than most species that are in peril in portions of their historic ranges. Effective management and monitoring programs must incorporate this knowledge to ensure that ginseng will be maintained as a viable species and continue to be a product of our native forests.

Issue & Pages:

Fall 2002 Pages: 93-97, 100-105

Article Download:

3-2NPJ93-97_100-105.pdf (PDF document)


  • Roger C Anderson
  • M Rebecca Anderson
  • Gregory Houseman


American ginseng, CITES, conservation, exported species, habitat characteristics, life cycle, Natural Heritage, Panax quinquefolius, wild harvest

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