Native to the eastern U.S., this handsome plant offers bold, luxuriant foliage for woodland and shade gardens. It grows from a thick yellow rootstock, sending up two deeply lobed, maplelike, 8-in.-long leaves that are held 1012 in. above the ground. In spring, a foot-tall stalk appears, topped by a solitary, short-lived white flower to 12 in. across. The blossom is followed in summer by a large, showy red berry that resembles a raspberry, though it isn't edible.
Golden seal accepts ordinary garden soil but prefers moist soil containing plenty of organic matter. Because the root contains berberine, an antibacterial agent used in herbal medicine, the plant is threatened in the wild due to overcollection. Fortunately, it is easily propagated by seed, and in time specialty nurseries will be able to meet the demands of herbalists and native plant enthusiasts alike.