This shrub is a semi-herbaceous plant like the popular and invasive butterfly bush, meaning that it mainly comprised of soft stems that sprout every year. A member of the ginseng, American Spikenard has been used as a substitute in the making of sarsaparilla.
The branches are a shiny dark maroon to near black in color and rise from the large aromatic root systems. The true showstopper of the plant is the flowers which appear in early summer and give way to dark purple berries that are highly desired by birds. The large leaves on this plant provide great texture and contrast in the landscape. The name of American Spikenard is a bit of a misnomer, as there are no thorns or spikes on the plant.
The Quaker, John Bartram, offered this plant for sale in his for sale in Bartram's Catalogue of American Trees, Shrubs, and Herbacious Plants (1783). The American Spikenard’s population in Jefferson County has been largely decimated over the years through habitat loss.
The American Spikenard is a host plant for 4 species of butterflies and moths and attracts 12 different genera of birds. However, the true importance of this plant is as a food source for birds and pollinators.