(Hydrastis canadensis)

2018 species of the year

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).   Photo courtesy of Ryan O'Connor.

Each year the Rare Plant Monitoring Program picks a plant deserving special attention. Monitors are not required to survey for the species of the year; it is meant to build excitement and allow participants to become more familiar with one plant species.

Species overview

The heart of the goldenseal distribution occurs from Pennsylvania to Missouri, and there the species appears to be secure. At the periphery of the distribution, though, goldenseal is much less common. There are 38 known locations of goldenseal in Wisconsin; 27 of these are priorities for monitoring.


Goldenseal is found in rich deciduous forests typically dominated by sugar maple and basswood though occasionally oak and hickory are prevalent. Nearby wildflowers include trilliums, May apple, bloodroot, hepaticas, as well as some ferns.


In the spring, two palmately lobed leaves form at the end of a one-foot tall hairy stem. The whitish flower develops between the two leaves in late April or early May. The goldenseal flower lacks petals, and the sepals it does have quickly disappear. Numerous white stamens, which arch upward are what gives this plant its spring color. After flowering, the two leaves continue to expand and stem loses its hair. By mid-summer the bright red fruit, similar to a raspberry, develops above the leaves.

Conservation Concerns

Poaching is a major threat to goldenseal. The plant is highly valued for its medicinal use, and over-collecting wild populations to sell for large sums has led to its decline. Habitat loss and degradation, either from logging, grazing, land conversion, or spread of invasive species, have reduced the viability of the remaining populations. Goldenseal was listed as special concern in Wisconsin in 1986.

Goldenseal range map Goldenseal range map.

Goldenseal photo

Goldenseal with fruit.   Photo credit: Ryan O'Connor

Identification tips

Goldenseal is distinctive due to its petal-less flowers, hairy young leaves, and bright red fruit. Other palmately-lobed woodland plants are easily distinguished. Hops (Humulus spp.) have similar leaves to goldenseal but are vines. May apple (Podophyllum peltatum) will likely be found alongside goldenseal and has two leaves that form at the end of a stem. However, May apple leaves are more deeply lobed, its young leaves are not hairy, and its flower, which appears below the leaves, has petals.

Goldenseal photo

Goldenseal with flower.   Photo credit: Ryan O'Connor