A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

One could be forgiven for missing the blooms of this native woodland plant. Small, reddish-brown in color, and resting on the ground, they are not entirely obvious but, for all that, they are worth a closer look.

close-up

The flowers, despite their diminutive size, are quite beautiful and have an almost tropical appearance. Their color and location make them attractive to tiny flies, which, as they emerge from the soil at this time of year, seem to assist with pollination.

A further trick demonstrated by this plant is that when its seeds are ripe, they have a nutritious coating. Ants collect these seeds and carry them off to their nests, where they eat off the coating and discard the contents—usually in an ideal location for the plant to grow.

It is called wild ginger because the root was once collected to be used as a ginger substitute, but it does contain some toxic compounds and is no longer used as a flavoring. True ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical plant and is completely unrelated.

Wild ginger makes an attractive ground cover in a shady spot in the garden. Its flowers and distinctive, freshly-unfurled foliage can be seen this week in the Shade Border, close to Wave Hill House.setting

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