What Bush-like Plant Has Delicate Round Globes of Tiny White Flowers Growing Underneath the Leaves?

I recently bought a copy of the Flowers of Riverwood book from the Chappell House offices while on a visit to the Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga. Paging through the detailed information and useful photos, I noticed a plant that I’m not familiar with. Its flowers remind me a bit of dandelion seed puffs because of their shape and the way each is held up on a single stem. I decided to keep an eye out for these spring wildflowers on my walks.

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Three Blooms Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Training Your Eyes to See What’s Always Been There In Front of You

I’ve noticed this quirk about my eyes before: Once I “tune” them to look for a particular shape or type of object, they suddenly spot them almost everywhere. A typical example is searching for frogs in the bulrushes and along the muddy banks of a narrow cut through the swamp near my parents’ cottage. At first, I have trouble finding a single frog. Once I spot one, though, I suddenly can see a dozen more. My eyes need to remember what to look for: the slightly round bump for the eyes, the jutting shape of the head, and the sheen of the skin.

Photo of False Sarsaparilla New Flower On NaturalCrooksDotCom
The newer flowers seem more subdued.

This time I was looking for a woodland plant with round white see-through clusters of flowers. I kept an eye out at Riverwood but the first place I spotted them was actually at the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga.

Sufferin’ Sassafras, False Sarsaparilla Sounds Like a Bugs Bunny Show Phrase

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Entire Plant Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Walking around the Knoll path that borders Sheridan Creek and part of the marsh, I looked down and saw my first flowers. What I had mistakenly vaguely believed to be the leaves of young shrubs or possibly tick-trefoil, were actually False Sarsaparilla. The proof was the stem rising underneath each plant; the stem divided into 3 separate stalks and at the end of each was a sphere of tiny white flowers.

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Patch On NaturalCrooksDotCom
Once I found the first one, I noticed the plants were everywhere.

This wildflower has many names: Small Spikenard, Aralia, Wild Sarsaparilla and False Sarsaparilla are some of the more “common” ones. Some sources suggest Wild Licorice and Rabbit Root are other names, although they have been used for different plants, too.

Isn’t Sarsaparilla a Soda Pop?

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Flower Closeup Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom
The flowers remind me of fireworks exploding outwards with their green and white colours and long stamens.

The wild plant in Ontario is not related to the Sarsaparilla vine which was used to flavour soft drinks. Nor is it Sassafras which was also used to flavour Root Beer before artificial flavourings were developed.
There is also another totally different Australian plant called False Sarsaparilla.

This Canadian wildflower has had its roots used in herbal medicine but I would never suggest using wild plants this way. Too often the plant is NOT the one being discussed in the old herbals.

Does False Sarsaparilla Have Berries or Seeds?

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Leaflets Toothed On NaturalCrooksDotCom
The leaflets have fine teeth along the edges and shade the flowers.

According to the University of Texas at Austin website, the fruit are dark purple berries.  They may take until the fall to develop. I haven’t noticed these before so I’ll try to look for them in August. It’s possible, though, that like the Jack in the Pulpit berries they may get eaten very quickly by the marsh wildlife.

Photo of False Sarsaparilla Flower Stalk Junction Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom
The flower stalk is attached to the leaf stalk just above the ground.

My Woodland-Flower-Tuned Eye Finds More Blossoms to Admire

Looking for this one spring wildflower made me notice several others on my recent walks. That’s a bonus especially when the bloom-time is so short for these spring ephemerals that try to grow, flower and set seed before the leaves of the mature maples and oaks overhead cut out most of the light. I’m glad I bought the book as it’s already brought me several interesting morning’s worth of plants to study. Like this one:

Photo of Running Strawberry One Flower One Leaf On NaturalCrooksDotCom


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