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Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Life history

Species overview

Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis), a Wisconsin 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: The optimal identification period for this species is 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

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis). 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 Hydrastis canadensis in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2S3
Global RankG3G4
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 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 Dry-mesic Forest 2
Southern Mesic Forest 3

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 site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • 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.

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).
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.
  • 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.


Golden-seal Photo.

Goldenseal with fruit.

Photo © Babette Kis.

Golden-seal Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Golden-seal Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Golden-seal Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Golden-seal Photo.

Hydrastis canadensis in fruit in the fall.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

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