Today I noticed a lot of Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense, Aristolochiaceae) popping up in some southern Michigan woodlands. The leaves grow from the thick, fleshy rhizomes that persist just under the ground surface throughout the year. These rhizomes spread into branching networks that give rise to colonies of clones. Clusters of individual plants like those above can all be genetically identical.
Each plant has two oppositely-arranged leaves that make this species easily recognizable. Soon after the leaves come up, a single small, cup-shaped, dark-red flower appears at the base of the petioles (leaf stems):
Although the flowers are quickly pollinated by flies, ants, and beetles and go to seed, the leaves persist throughout the summer. Seed dispersal allows the plants to colonize new areas outside of the range of the spreading rhizomes.
As the name implies, Canadian wildginger is similar in flavor to real ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae). It was widely used by Native Americans for medicinal and culinary applications. Modern use isn’t recommended, however, since as the family name (Aristolochiaceae) suggests, it contains carcinogenic aristolochic acid.