Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Ginseng Life Cycle: From Two Years Old to Mature Plants with Berries

                                                  Two year old ginseng plants
In our book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals (2014), Scott Persons describes how the ginseng plant develops from two years of age on:
     "In its second year, under optimal growing conditions, the plant can reach five or more inches in height and produce two prongs branching from the central stem, each prong being a single leaf composed of three to five leaflets. If conditions are friendly and fertile, the number of prongs will increase with age, and the plant may eventually reach a height exceeding two feet. In cultivated shade gardens, ginseng typically produces three prongs in its third growing season and often four prongs in its fourth. However, in the wild, plants are usually five to nine years old before they add a third prong and begin to produce berries (with seeds) in any quantity. In later years, particularly healthy and vigorous specimens can have as many as five prongs radiating from the top of the stem, with each prong typically having five leaflets (occasionally as many as eight).
                                Four-prong ginseng plant
     "The species name, quinquefolius, means five-leafed. The two smallest leaflets on a prong are less than two inches long and the other three larger leaflets are three or four inches in length. The shape of the leaflets is lanceolate, with saw-toothed edges ending in a sharp point.
                                                                  Ginseng berry cluster    
"From the center of the whorl of prongs, a delicate cluster of small, nondescript blossoms arises in early summer, usually on plants that are at least three years old. Each blossom has five greenish white petals only a few millimeters in width. A ginseng plant is capable of self-pollination, but reproductive success is greater when sweat bees and other insects cross-pollinate the flower clusters. By July or August, as few as two or three green berries or (on large, older plants) as many as 50 berries follow the blossoms. These kidney-shaped berries about the size of bloated black-eyed peas turn a beautiful   bright crimson color as they ripen. Each ripe berry usually contains two slightly wrinkled, hard whitish seeds about the size and shape of a children's aspirin tablet. Young plants sometimes produce berries containing only one seed, and vigorous older plants often have berries with three seeds in them. Under normal conditions, the seeds do not germinate and sprout until 18 to 20 months after they fall from the plant in August or September."

To learn more about how the ginseng plant develops and how you can grow your "Green Gold", order a copy of our book "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals". If you order through this website, you will get a lead author signed copy. Then watch for when Scott Persons might be giving a presentation in your area and bring the book along to get his signature, too. I always get a kick out of it when I give a talk and someone comes up afterwards with a well-worn, dog-eared book and asks for me to sign it and I open it up to find Scott's autograph already there.


  1. i have trees with way too much foliage(red maple is the most extreme) this is a long term reaction to mid April 2007 freeze,80f down to17f at night.I have 5yr old ginseng in really good soil that is still 2 prong, is anybody else noticing this?

  2. Ben, no one else ever responded to this. Have you done any pruning to open up the tree canopy a bit? Many shade gardeners do this. Unfortunately, my problem is usually the opposite. I am having to add more shade because of loss due to tree damage or removal.