The family Araliaceae Jussieu

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

aug_25_19.gthmb can't be loaded. The Araliaceae family of flowering plants is also known as the Aralia family (after its type genus Aralia) or as the Ivy family. The well know Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, photograph to the right) is a member of the family. The family includes about 70 genera and between 700 and 900 species of mostly tropical trees, lianas, shrubs, and perennial herbaceous. Botanists usually split the family in two subfamilies.

Species usually bear pinnately or palmately compound leaves; the leaves are usually alternate, rarely opposite. The plants usually have stipules that are liguliform or adnate to the petiole.

The plants usually have small flowers produced in large panicles or umbels. The flowers are actinomorphic and most frequently unisexual. The calyx calyx is reduced to usually 5 minute teeth or a seam like rim adnate to the ovary. The corolla consists mostly of 5 to 10 usually more or less distinct petals, arising from a nectary disk on the summit of the ovary. The stamens are distinct, usually as many as and alternating with the petals.

The fruit is a berry or drupe that sometimes splits into one-seeded segments. There are often prickly or stellate hairs on the vegetative parts.

The Araliaceae family is closely related to the Apiaceae and Pittosporaceae families, owing to numerous common traits, notably those involving their general appearance and inflorescence structure. These morphological similarities result from the common evolutionary steps that these families underwent in the past. The boundaries between these families are still uncertain, so that the actual number of genera and species of the family might change in the future. Furthermore, the generic level classification of the Araliaceae family has been unstable, generic limits are controversial.

The family is essentially centered in Southeast Asia and tropical America. China has 23 genera (two endemic, one introduced) and 180 species (82 endemic, seven introduced).

Many of the species of Araliaceae are cultivated for their leaves, Hedera helix, or English Ivy and the houseplants of the Aralia genera, or for the medicinal quality of their roots, the Panax genus.


Aralia is the latinization of an old French-Canadian name aralie which probably came from the Iroquois Indian language. Aralia was coined by Tournefort in 1700, from, a plant send to him by Sarrazin. Michel Sarrazin, surgeon, doctor, and naturalist, (1659 - 1734) came to New France in 1685, as a surgeon in the Marine. While there he also pursed his interests in botany, went into the Iroquois country and wrote his Histoire des plantes du Canada (History of the plants from Canada). He had a better understanding of plant species than Linnaeus did. Sarrazin had dispatched a specimen of Panax quinquefolius that he identified as a Ginseng variety, under the name of Aralia humilis fructu majore. Aralia became then the type genus of the Araliaceae family, giving it its name. Sarrazin also discovered the Sarracenia purpurea, and the Sarracenia name was given to the genus by Tournefort, in honor of Sarrazin.


Economically, the most important species is Panax quinquefolius, the Ginseng, an extract of which is supposed to be an aphrodisiac as well as being a general stimulant. This perception has led to the devastation of many populations of the species in eastern North America. Other genera of interest include species of Aralia and Oplopanax, both of which have been found to have medicinally beneficial compounds. Aralia and Hedera are the most commonly grown ornamentals.

The Araliaceae of Québec

In Québec one find 2 genera and 5 species of the Araliaceae family: