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Published In: Species Plantarum 2: 1058–1059. 1753. (1 May 1753) (Sp. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library
 

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 8/4/2017)
Acceptance : Accepted
Project Data     (Last Modified On 7/9/2009)
Status: Native

 

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1. Panax quinquefolius L. (American ginseng, ginseng)

Pl. 219 d, e; Map 911

Plants perennial herbs with short rhizomes at the tip of the elongate, sometimes branched, fleshy main roots. Aerial stem solitary from the tip of the rhizome, 10–50 cm long, erect or nearly so. Leaves deciduous, in a single whorl of (1–)3(–5) at the tip of a short aerial stem, 1 time palmately compound with 3–5 leaflets. Leaflets 6–15 cm long, oblong-obovate to obovate, tapered to a point at the tip, narrowed to a short stalk at the sometimes slightly asymmetrical base, the margins sharply toothed, glabrous or sparsely hairy along the veins. Inflorescence solitary from the aerial stem tip, a simple umbel from the tip of a stalk 1–12 cm long. Sepals absent or 5 minute teeth. Petals 0.5–1.0 mm long, oblong-elliptic, white to greenish white. Styles 2(3). Fruits 9–10 mm long, somewhat flattened and usually slightly 2-lobed, bright red, shiny, with 2(3) stones. 2n=44. June–July.

Scattered in the Ozark and Ozark Border Divisions, scattered to uncommon in the rest of the state, but apparently absent from most of the Mississippi Lowlands and Unglaciated Plains, also apparently absent from portions of the Glaciated Plains (northeastern U.S. west to south Dakota, south to Georgia; Canada). Mesic upland forests, often in ravines, and ledges of shaded bluffs and rock outcrops.

Evidence that voucher specimens have not been collected in every county in which the species exists comes from annual reports by the Missouri Department of Conservation on the harvest of ginseng per county. Readers also should be aware that the species’ apparent range has been altered in some areas by woodland cultivation, the planting by individuals of seeds in natural settings for subsequent commercial harvest of rootstocks.

Roots (and to a lesser extent foliage) of P. quinquefolius originally were mostly ground and brewed into a tea but have more recently been incorporated into a variety of products, including tablets and capsules, liquid tonics, soaps and shampoos, lotions and cremes, and even chewing gum. In Chinese herbal medicine and more recently in medicinal practice elsewhere in the world, ginseng and its extracts have been used as a general tonic and stimulant, as a means of lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, for stress relief, and as a sexual stimulant (among a multitude of purported virtues). Although many American medical and pharmaceutical researches remain skeptical of the plant’s efficacy, in Europe and Asia it is widely accepted to have therapeutic and stimulant properties.

Carlson (1986) chronicled the fascinating history of the commercialization of Panax in the New World, beginning with the discovery in the early 1700s by French missionaries among the Iroquois and other Native American tribes that there existed a native North American counterpart to the Asian species, which had been used medicinally for centuries in China and surrounding countries, and which had by then already been overharvested to near extinction in Asia. Carlson documented that by the 1820s, nearly 3.8 million pounds of dried roots were being exported during the decade, mostly to Asia, with a peak of nearly 6.8 million pounds during the 1880s. Today, American ginseng continues to be the most valuable botanical product wild-harvested commercially in the United States. Of note, one of the nation’s largest wholesalers and exporters of ginseng has been based in Eolia (Pike County). Oddly, most American ginseng continues to be exported, whereas most products sold in the United States contain mainly Korean or other Asian species. At present, in Missouri, about 3,000–4,000 pounds of dried roots are harvested each year (mostly from wild-collected plants), which accounts for less than 5 percent of U.S. production (Tim Smith, Missouri Department of Conservation, personal communication). Kentucky (26,000–32,000) and Tennessee (15,000–19,000) lead the nation in pounds harvested annually. Most of the state’s harvest is done in the Ozark Division and counties along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers by root diggers, individuals who supplement their incomes by harvesting a variety of natural products from local areas and selling these to distributors. Less than 10 percent of the state’s commercial ginseng production comes from cultivated plants, either grown in beds under netting or other artificial shade or wild-cultivated by planting seeds at natural sites in plant communities where the species can flourish (Lewis, 1989).

The sustained long-term harvest of ginseng for more than 200 years has led to the extirpation or decline of the species in many portions of its range (Yatskievych and Spellenberg, 1993). In some states as well as in Canada, commercial harvest from the wild is presently illegal. Several states and Canada have also designated the species as threatened, endangered, or similar categories, and at one point it was under consideration for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. In recognition of these conservation concerns, international trade in ginseng is regulated under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which mandates that the states monitor harvest and sales within their boundaries. The Missouri Department of Conservation receives and compiles annual reports from all dealers, including detailed information on the quantities and sources of roots introduced into commerce in the state. Collecting is further regulated under the Missouri Wildlife Code, which prohibits wild harvest except during an official season (usually September 1–December 31), coinciding with the months that mature fruits are present on the plants. Diggers are encouraged to squeeze the stones from fruits present into the hole left after the rootstock is excavated, in order to make the natural resource more renewable. Seedlings do not appear until the second spring following planting, and plants apparently do not begin to produce flowers and fruits until they are four years old (Anderson et al., 1993). It is of interest that Lewis (1988) was able to document the gradual recovery of a Missouri population from a seed bank in the soil several years after its decimation by diggers and in the absence of subsequent disruptions.

A number of authors (Gleason and Cronquist, 1991) have continued to treat Panax as neuter (as was done by Linnaeus in describing the genus) and therefore to spell the specific epithet quinquefolium. However, as noted by Graham (1966), the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (for most recent edition, see Greuter et al., 1994: Article 62.1a) specifically states that Panax and other generic names ending in -panax are to be treated as masculine epithets, and the species should thus be spelled P. quinquefolius.

 


 

 
 
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