Random Plant: Canadian wildginger

Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense, Aristolochiaceae) photographed 04/15/2011 near Blissfield Michigan.

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.

Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense, Aristolochiaceae) photographed 04/15/2011 near Blissfield Michigan.

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):

Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense, Aristolochiaceae) photographed 04/27/2008 near Blissfield Michigan.

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.

Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense, Aristolochiaceae) photographed 05/11/2011 near Blissfield Michigan.

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.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Random Plant and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Random Plant: Canadian wildginger

  1. Joanne says:

    If you have woodlands near your house being overtaken by (super invasive) garlic mustard, wild ginger is a blessing. It’s a native plant. You can find it at most native plant nurseries. Wild Ginger’s sturdy rootstocks and soft green leaves creep to cover woodland slopes, rocky soils, and any shady area. Once established, it fends off Garlic Mustard, Buckthorn, and other invasives. Plant one foot apart to form a solid cover in two to three years. Hardy to Zones 3 – 8.

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  2. Jeremy Sell says:

    Thanks for your comment, Joanne. I can certainly see how the dense foliage of wildginger stands could prevent the establishment of garlic mustard. It seems that healthy, undisturbed communities of native plants are in general a good deterrent to invasive species. Whenever I see a garlic mustard infestation, it’s usually in an area of human activity (edges of fields, trails, yards, etc.) Removing native plants is a sure-fire way to give garlic mustard the opportunity to get a foot-hold. And as you point out, maintaining native plants is a great way to prevent it from establishing itself.

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