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Muskroot (Adoxa moschatellina)

Life history

Species overview

Muskroot (Adoxa moschatellina), a Wisconsin Threatened plant, is found on moist shaded ledges and bare soil at cliff bases with relict northern plant species present. It is usually on or at the base of north-facing sandstone or limestone bluffs and talus slopes. Blooming occurs early May through late June; fruiting occurs early June through late July. The optimal identification period for this species is late May through late June.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Its delicate appearance and musky odor may distinguish this species as may its leaf organization (three-parted basal leaves and one pair of opposite, three-parted cauline leaves) or unique inflorescence.
  • Flower characteristics: Inflorescence a terminal cluster (cyme) of yellowish-green flowers borne on a long stalk; lateral flowers with 3 sepals and 5-lobed corolla; terminal flowers with 2 sepals and 4-lobed corolla; each corolla lobe 1.7 to 3 mm long; symmetry more or less regular.
  • Fruit characteristics: Small, dry, fleshy, green fruit (drupelet) with (1-) 3 to 5 lenticular nutlets; calyx is persistent on fruit.
  • Leaf characteristics: Basal leaves alternate, long-petiolate, and three-parted; cauline leaves opposite, 3-parted, and smaller than the basal leaves.


  • Blooming phenology: early May through late June
  • Fruiting phenology: early June through late July
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late May through late June


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction: White scaly rhizomes
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Tsuga canadensis, Betula alleghaniensis, B. papyrifera, Pinus strobus, Acer saccharum, Tilia americana, mosses, spring ephemerals. Monotypic.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Muskroot (Adoxa moschatellina). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Adoxa moschatellina in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

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 on moist shaded ledges and bare soil at cliff bases with relict northern plant species present. It is usually on or at the base of north-facing sandstone or limestone bluffs and talus slopes.
  • Soils: Moist, often mossy soils. Some accounts note mildly acidic soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Muskroot. 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 2
Moist Cliff 3
Algific Talus Slope 2

Ecological landscapes

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

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Western Coulee and Ridges 3

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 direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.

Management guidance

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

  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.
  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Muskroot Photo.

Muskroot leaves

Photo © Debbie Konkel.

Muskroot Photo.

Photo © Debbie Konkel.

Muskroot Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Muskroot Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Muskroot Photo.

Adoxa moschatellina in bloom. 4cm razor blade for scale.

Photo © Robert H. Read.

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: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
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