My ginger…your foliage is…wrong

I grew up as a child spending most of my time botanizing the woods from a ridiculously early age. One of the native plants I’ve known since my earliest adventures is Asarum arifolium, which was the most common wild ginger in our region. Over the last 60 years, I’ve undoubtedly seen tens of thousands of this species.

Asarum arifolium typical form in flower

I was fascinated by the variability in the amount of silver in the leaves, the contrast in the leaf pigmentation, the propensity to clump tightly or run, along with some slight variations in flower color and size. Below is a form that makes a particularly tight clump with good contrasting leaf markings. Despite the occasional solid green leaf forms, the one constant has always been the green leaf veins in between the silver blotching….until…

Asarum arifolium nice form of typical pattern

untill I found the oddball below in the woods north of Mobile, Alabama. In the middle of a patch of normal plants was one single individual with reversed leaf patterns…the leaves have a green base with silver veins. I certainly know the pattern, which is typical of several other native asarum species (minus, heterophyllum, lewisii, harperi, shuttleworthii, etc.), but this pattern simply isn’t allowed in Asarum arifolium. We watched impatiently as our plant first flowered, thinking it must be some odd hybrid, but the flowers told a different story…pure Asarum arifolium. We even grew a crop from seed to discover that 50% of the offspring had this same reverse pattern. As we chatted with other botanists about our find, we’ve discovered two other folks who have also found similar individuals, so these “off the bell curve” forms are out there, albeit quite rare.

Asarum arifolium ‘Stained Glass’ (abi-normal form)

Here’s looking at you, kid

Flowering this week is the fascinating Asarum speciosum, native to only three counties in central Alabama. In bloom, it resembles a mass of bloodshot eyes peeking out from beneath the skirt of anise-scented foliage.

Asarum speciosum

Do You Remember Ginger?

There are lots of different gingers to keep straight, starting with a memorable one that was a part of the band of misfits stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Horticulturally speaking, however, ginger refers both to a group of plants in the Zingiberaceae and Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) families. Hardy members of the Zingiber family are plants who mostly flower in the heat of summer, while the wild gingers (asarum) of the birthwort family tend to be mostly winter/spring flowering.

So, while it’s late winter/early spring, let’s focus of the woodland perennial genus asarum, of which we currently grow 86 of the known 177 asarum species/subspecies. In late winter/early spring, we like to remove any of the winter damaged evergreen leaves, which makes the floral show so much more visible. Few people take time to bend down and observe their amazing flowers, so below are some of floral photos we took this spring. View our full photo gallery here.

Asarum arifolium (Native: SE US)
Asarum caudatum (Native: NW US)
Asarum asaroides ‘Jade Turtle’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum asperum ‘Fault Line’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum campaniflorum (Native: China)
Asarum caudigerum (Native: China)
Asarum hirsutisepalum (Native: Japan)
Asarum ichangense ‘Huddled Masses’ (Native: China)
Asarum magnificum ‘Bullseye’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘Crown Royal’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘King Kong’ (Native: China)
Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ (Native: China)
Asarum senkakuinsulare (Native: Japan)
Asarum speciosum ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ (Native: SE US)
Asarum splendens (Native: China)