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Kevin Doyle

Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Life history

Species overview

Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis), a State Special Concern plant, is found in rich, mesic hardwood forests. Blooming occurs late April through early May; fruiting occurs July. The optimal identification period for this species is late April though July.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from other Ranunculaceae during anthesis by having only 2 simple, cauline leaves and solitary white flowers, which are missing petals.
  • Flower characteristics: Flowers 8 to 18 cm wide with numerous white exserted stamens; sepals 3, dropping after flower opens; petals absent.
  • Fruit characteristics: Red berries with 1 to 2 seeds per pistil, 5 to 8 mm.
  • Leaf characteristics: Basal leaf usually solitary and quickly deciduous; cauline leaves 2, alternate, near summit, toothed, 5-lobed and with indented nerves, 3 to 10 cm when flower opens, but expand to 25 to 30 cm.


  • Blooming phenology: late April through early May
  • Fruiting phenology: July
  • Optimum time to identify: late April though July


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer spp., Quercus spp., Hepatica acutiloba, Caulophyllum thalictroides, Claytonia virginica. Rhizomes used for medicinal purposes, explaining the species' rare status.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis) is on the "watch list." Watch list species have experienced, or are believed to have experienced, a statewide or range wide decline, but they are not currently tracked in the Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) database. The watch list includes newly discovered species for which origin and rarity need to be determined, certain animals designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan, and species that were tracked in the past but proved more abundant, widespread or less vulnerable than previously thought. Although watch list species are not actively tracked by NHI, occurrences documented during surveys are often stored by NHI, as these species could be tracked in the future if there is further evidence of their decline.

Hydrastis canadensis is not tracked by the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory Program at this time (this species is not on the NHI Working List).

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3S4
Global RankG4
Tracked by NHIW

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in rich, mesic hardwood forests.
  • Soils: Moderately acidic to alkaline soils high in organic matter.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Golden-seal. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Southern Mesic Forest 3
Southern Dry-mesic Forest 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Golden-seal. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Reports on the shade requirements of Hydrastis canadensis range from 30-90%, with plants in northern states appearing to do best in areas with between 50-70% shade (Sinclair and Catling 2001).
  • Survey for and control invasive plants prior to conducting timber operations, as these can be spread by vehicles and often respond vigorously to increased light; see forestry BMPs for invasive species.
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.


Golden-seal  [Photo #22556]

Hydrastis canadensis in fruit in the fall.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, WDNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition