True Unicorn Root – Aletris farinosa

True Unicorn Root – Aletris farinosa, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 46

Latin Name:

Aletris farinosa

Common Name:

True Unicorn Root, White Colicroot, White Stargrass

Family:

Nartheciaceae (Asphodel family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Flowering through most of the summer, A. farinosa extends a flowering stock up to a meter tall in a long spike of white, tubular blooms that become similarly shaped seed pods filled with small seeds.

Geographic Region:

  • Most of the population of Aletris farinosa is centered around the Carolinas and around the coast of Lake Michigan, but it can still be found in many other states as well. Specifically, Aletris farinosa can be found in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
  • True Unicorn Root is also found in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Habitat:

True Unicorn Root can survive in a variety of habitats, from rich woods to open prairies. The two constants of the species are that it prefers sandy soil and lots of sunlight.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Aletris farinosa is of “Special Concern” in Rhode Island, “Threatened” in New York, “Endangered” in Pennsylvania, and “Possibly Extirpated” in Maine.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Not much is known about the medical compounds of A. farinosa, but diosgenin is definitely significant.

It was used historically primarily as a treatment for colic as late as the 19th century. Native Americans also used it for various gastrointestinal problems and as a treatment for dysentery. It has also been suggested that it may have a use in treating gynecological problems.

Vulnerability of Habitat/Changes of Habitat Quality and Availability:

Grasslands and prairies are often targets of agricultural development, fragmenting, and reducing habitat quality. Fire suppression is another big issue, as Aletris farinosa relies on regular fire cycles to prevent overcrowding and tree encroachment.

Recommendations for Industrial and Home Use:

Herbalists should try to rely on farm-grown and sustainably harvested A. farinosa. Cultivation of this species is relatively simple for the average gardener.

Citations


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