Panax trifolius is a perennial, spring ephemeral, small herb from a round, round, tuberous root, stem 5-20 cm tall, unbranched.
Leaves in one whorl, palmately compound, 3-5 parted, leaflets 4-8 cm long, to 2 cm wide, tip blunt, base unequal, margin finely toothed.
Flowers white, 5-parted, tiny, petals 0.1 cm long, no sepals none; ovary inferior, 2-3 parted, styles 2-3, 0.2 cm long; inflorescence a ball-shaped cluster on an a stalk 2-6 cm long at top of plant; small plants are male, larger plants hermaphroditic (Schlessman et al. 1996); blooms April-May (Radford et al. 1968).
Fruit fleshy, yellow, 0.5-1 cm wide, seeds 2-3; bird or animal dispersed; fruits Aug.-Oct. Dispersal to and establishment in new sites in successional forest, contiguous to old regrowth stands has been estimated at a rate of 0.22 m/yr (Matlack 1994).
Wetland status: UPL.
Frequency in NYC: Very infrequent.
Habitat: Undisturbed, moist forest interiors.
Note: This is not the medicinal species of ginseng. The root is apparently edible (Fern 2004) but since these are uncommon forest understory plants it is strongly recommended that they be left undisturbed. There is plenty of food in the supermarket.