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TREES & plants

Yellowroot

Yellowroot is a small woody perennial forming a dense carpet that reaches 1 to 3 feet high. This east coast native is found in damp woods, stream banks, and wet depressions. The best feature is the yellow to red to purple fall color. The roots are yellow and once used to make dye.

Botanical name: 
Xanthorhiza simplicissima
All Common Names: 
yellowroot
Family (English): 
Buttercup
Family (Botanic): 
Ranunculaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Perennial, 
  • Shrub
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Foundation, 
  • Massing, 
  • Mixed border, 
  • Patio/sidewalk
Size Range: 
  • Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet), 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily), 
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil, 
  • Sandy soil, 
  • Wet soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous, 
  • Purple
Shape or Form: 
  • Creeping, 
  • Multi-stemmed, 
  • Thicket-forming
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

A 2 to 3 feet high spreading woody ground cover, forming a solid mass.
Best in average to moist, acidic to neutral soils in full sun to partial shade
Adaptable to most soil types but prefers moist soil. Found along streams and river banks.
May be difficult to find in nurseries.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Will not do well in heavy clay soils.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 3
Native to the Eastern United States from Maine to northern Florida and west to eastern Texas.

Bark color and texture 

Gray-brown smooth stems
Roots and inner bark are bright yellow.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, pinnately compound leaves with 3 to 5 leaflets, 4 to 8 inches long, yellow-green with serrate to deeply toothed, margins. 
The petioles are long and slender, lustrous bright green changing to golden yellow in the fall. 

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Drooping clusters of 5-petaled, star-like flowers,  yellow to purple-brown, appearing in early spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A star-shaped cluster of follicles, initially green and fleshy, drying and turning brown.

Xanthorhiza simplicissima or Yellowroot