Wild and crazy wild ginger

Native plant in bloom

Wild ginger in full bloom on the Bruce Peninsula, May, 2015.

Wild ginger appears every spring on a moss-covered boulder just outside the door to our cottage on the Bruce Peninsula. It’s a peculiar plant in many ways so I’m pleased but a little surprised to see it showing up at more and more garden centres here in Southern Ontario. If you’re tempted to try some of these plants in your garden, check out these pros and cons first before making an investment.

PROS

GREAT GROUND COVER:  Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) can make a great ground cover, particularly if you’re planting a woodland-style garden, a rock garden or a rain garden. Each plant sprouts two fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves

EDIBLE:  I understand you can dry the rhizomes to use as a spice and that the roots can also be used fresh in a stir-fry or boiled in sweetened water to make a syrup. I’ve never tried.

WEIRD FLOWERS: The Triffid-like flowers of the wild ginger bloom from the base of the plant so it can be a challenge to see them if you’re using these plants as a ground cover. Luckily for us, our wild ginger patch (as seen at top left) is perched on the top of a large, moss-covered boulder so the flowers are very conveniently right at nose height.

CONS

NEEDS CONSISTENT MOISTURE AND PROTECTION: Canadian wild ginger is a finicky plant. Anyone who’s seen them growing wild in Ontario will recognize right away that they love constantly moist, rich, acidic soils. It needs a sheltered location and applying a thick mulch around the root zone in summer and winter is recommended. However, if you can maintain the right level of moisture throughout the summer, you can establish a relatively low-maintenance ground cover.

POLLUTION INTOLERANT: These plants live up to their name. They need wild-like conditions. Connon Nurseries notes that they are “quite intolerant of urban pollution“. Downtown sites are not recommended and neither are urban streetside plantings.

If you live in Southern Ontario, the two options shown below are available at local garden centres. Click on each photo for more details.

 

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