Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) VaNPS Wildflower of the Year:
Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) or Canadian wild ginger, as it is sometimes identified, joins skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus and VA spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) in a long list of eastern North American native plants as the Va Native Plant Society Wildflower of the Year . Shady deciduous woodlands with moist, slightly acidic soils are the favored habitats of wild gingers.
Canadian wild ginger and its relatives such as the European wild ginger (Asarum European) are useful in home and commercial landscapes as perennial shade-loving groundcover plants. (Photos #1 and #2) They are more valuable for leaf color, texture and shape than for their hidden flowers. They form large colonies of sturdy low– maintenance and quick–growing plants. (Photos 3 & 4)
Canadian ginger plants are deciduous – losing their leaves in autumn – and patches appear bare in winter. Colonies form from branching creeping rhizomes – flat stems that form at or just below the soil surface. Pairs of soft, downy, and light green kidney–shaped leaves, that measure from 1/4″ to 1″long, develop from rhizome ends. Leaf petioles can lift the leaves as high as 8″ above the clump.
Leaves must be pushed aside to see flowers. Single, ground–hugging, tube–shaped flowers develop between the paired leaves from April to July. (photo #5) Pale green bell–like tubes protect the flowers’ reproductive parts. These floral tubes measure 1/3″ to slightly over 1/2″ long and sport three maroon or brown relaxed or spreading tips. The seeds mature in fleshy brown capsules and are insect – dispersed.
Propagation and Growing Conditions
Canadian wild ginger (Asarum candense), a North American native, thrives in rich shady woods, usually in colonies, from New Brunswick and Quebec west to Ontario and Minnesota and south to North Carolina, northern Alabama, and northern Louisiana.
Successful gardening with native plants depends upon imitating growing conditions found in natural habitats. It seems as if Canadian wild ginger leaves burn when they receive too much sun, and apparently thrive in moist shady conditions.
Propagation from seeds is difficult because they are tiny and germination depends upon optimum collection and planting times. Seeds seem to germinate best when sown immediately after maturing, or planted and allowed to experience cold winter conditions.
Propagation by division is easier. Divide mature plants in early autumn just before they start to go dormant. Slice through rhizomes to make 6-8″ pieces. Or, leave parent plants in place and slice sections from tips of the clump. Replant new divisions immediately, just under the soil surface, and water thoroughly.
The VNPS stresses that “gardeners should not collect wild ginger in the wild and should be certain that all native plants purchased for home gardens have been propagated in a nursery and not collected from the wild.