Wild ginger is a low-growing native plant that thrives in moist, shady places. This stemless plant features dark green heart- or kidney-shape leaves with visible veining and cup-shape purple-brown flowers in spring that are often hidden beneath its foliage. In Colonial times, fresh or dried roots of wild ginger were used as a ginger substitute, but it is not a relative of culinary ginger and it is a known carcinogen and can cause kidney problems, so stick to growing it for ornamental use only. Wild ginger makes a good groundcover for woodland gardens and shady wildlife gardens.
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Although wild ginger is grown more for its foliage than its floral display, its small blossoms are intriguing. The flowers develop at ground level, so they are often hidden from view. They can be various shades of brown, purple, black, yellow, and white; many feature unique patterning on the petals. This coloring helps attract their pollinators, usually flies and beetles, as does their odor of rotting flesh. Some species have larger flowers than others and are worth the hunt to find them. Wild ginger native to the U.S. has simple green foliage, but many other species have leaves veined in silver and patterns similar to a cyclamen.
Wild Ginger Care Must-Knows
Wild ginger will grow well in medium to wet, well-drained soil. However, due to its slow-growing nature, it may take several years to establish and make a substantial clump. To provide your plants with ideal growing conditions similar to a woodland area, add plenty of compost to the soil at the time of planting. During the spring, an additional layer of compost can be added to provide extra nutrients. Wild ginger also prefers acidic soil but can tolerate neutral soil, too.
Wild ginger prefers to grow in part shade to full shade. Some species can take more sun, but be careful with those with intricate leaf types as they can burn and dry out too much. Wild ginger spreads slowly by rhizomes and creates a lush groundcover in shady areas. It's also deer resistant. Wild ginger can be planted in containers, which allows its flowers to be more easily admired.
More Varieties of Wild Ginger
Canadian wild ginger
Asarum canadense is a North American native with medium, green downy leaves. It requires regular moisture to look its best. It has better heat tolerance than European wild ginger. Zones 2-8.
Chinese wild ginger
Asarum splendens is an easy-to-grow Chinese wild ginger that is evergreen in mild climates. It has arrowhead-shape leaves with silver mottling and dark purple flowers in spring. Zones 5-9.
Wild Ginger Companion Plants
Astilbe brings a graceful, feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun. Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white, or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
Japanese Painted Fern
One of the most elegant ferns available for your garden, Japanese painted ferns are washed with gorgeous silver and burgundy markings. Lady fern is equally elegant though not quite as showy. Either will add interest and texture to your shady spots. Closely related to each other, Japanese painted fern and lady fern are sometimes crossed with each other to create attractive hybrids. Unlike most ferns, these toughies will tolerate dry soil. And they will tolerate some sun if they have ample water.