Perennial herb with a long taproot 30 cm - 1.2 m tall Stem: reduced to a short woody base (caudex), branched. The flower stem is erect. Leaves: opposite and thick with nearly parallel veins and short-haired surfaces and margins. The basal leaves have a short winged stalk and are 10 - 30 cm long, narrow and inversely egg-shaped, and toothless or with one or two divisions near the base. Stem leaves smaller, sometimes pinnately parted into a few segments. Flowers: either male or female, found on separate plants (dioecious), a few flowers bisexual, borne on an elongate inflorescence with many lateral branches, bisexual and male flowers 2.5 - 3.5 mm across and female flowers to 1 mm across, with calyx lobes rolled up at flowering and unrolled in fruit, whitish petals fused into a five-lobed inverse cone shape, three stamens, and a three-lobed stigma. Fruit: a hairless achene, 2.5 - 4 mm across, egg-shaped to oblong.
Similar species: Valeriana species have pinnately divided stem leaves and calyx lobes that are rolled up at flowering but unroll on the mature fruit. Valeriana officinalis and Valeriana uliginosa are easily distinguished by their fibrous roots, and Valeriana edulis has hairless leaf surfaces.
Flowering: late April to mid June
Habitat and ecology: Local in wet prairies and calcareous fens.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Etymology: Valeriana is the medieval Latin name for valerian. It may have been derived from the Latin word valere, meaning healthy, referring to its medicinal use. Ciliata means fringed with hairs.