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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Asarum canadense L.

Aristolochiaceae (Dutchmen’s-pipe Family)

Common Name:

wild ginger


Wild ginger is a native perennial herb that grows in rich deciduous woods. It spreads by underground rhizomes often forming large colonies.  It has no aerial stem but pairs of  heart or kidney-shaped hairy leaves grow from the rhizome.

The leaves are on long (6 to 20 cm) whitened hairy petioles and the leaf blade, which enlarges after seed set, gets up to 15 cm wide.  The leaves tend to cover the flowers, which lie nearly on the ground.  Handling the leaves causes contact dermatitis in some people.

Flowers are solitary, about 4 cm across, and arise from between pairs of leaves. They are a mixture of tan, purple and green and hairy on the outside.  The sepals overlap at the base to form a well-defined cup with three pointed, spreading lobes.  Wild ginger blooms from late March to June and is predominately self-pollinated. The seeds are large with an appendage that may aid in dispersal by insects.

While the crushed rhizome tastes and smells like ginger, this species is not related to true ginger, which is a tropical monocot in the Zingiberaceae family.

  • Origin of the name: Asarum, Gr., asaron, name of an unknown plant; canadense, from Canada
  • Range:  SE Canada and eastern US, w to MN, s to AK, SC
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates:  Silver maple, wood nettle in wooded floodplains; sugar maple, jack-in-the-pulpit in mesic woods.
  • Wetland Indicator Status: UPL
  • Coefficent of Conservatism: C = 7 (S&W), C = 5 (MI)
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