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

My Ginger, your lips look…enhanced

If you’re only familiar with the smaller flowered asarum (wild ginger), check out the well-endowed Asarum nobilissimum flowering now. This is a selection of the different clones we grow in the gardens at JLBG. Most of the flowers are around 4″ wide.

Asarum nobilissimum; top l-r, ‘Crown Jewel’, ‘King Kong’, #14…mid ‘Netscape’, ‘Deep Throat’, ‘Super Shield’ (young flower)…bottom ‘Iron Butterfly’, ‘Super Shield’, ‘National Treasure. (delavayi).

We find Asarum nobilissimum (1985) is indistinguishable from Asarum delavayi (1895), so most likely the name will revert once the experts agree with our assessment.

Gingers Wild

April is an amazing month for wild gingers of the genus asarum, in the garden. Here are a few that are looking particularly stunning this week.

Asarum forbesii
Asarum ichangense ‘Huddled Masses’
Asarum arifolium
Asarum senkakuinsulare
Asarum magnificum

Ginger’s Smiling Face

Just caught this perfectly posed Asarum splendens in flower on a recent photographing foray in the garden.

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)

Asarum – Wild Gingers

Plants in the genus asarum are small but exquisite, deer-resistant woodland perennials that thrive in moist but well-drained conditions with light shade. Many asarum species are evergreen and make a great ground cover in the woodland garden. Here are some images of asarum in the garden this morning.

Asarum are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 86 species and 529 unique clones. Join Tony in the gardens during this Gardening Unplugged video garden chat about wild gingers.

The flower color of asarums are usually burgundy or purple, but we are always on the look out for variants. Towards the end of the video Tony shows a yellow flowered form, Asarum ichangense ‘Ichang Lemon’, which we hope to have available for 2021. We do have another yellow flowered form we are offering for the first time this year, Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’.

Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’

Skirt-lifting time in the woods

While we’ll always grow the woodland asarum (wild gingers) for their foliage, we are equally as entranced by their flowers which occur from fall thru spring…based on the species. The only months we haven’t recorded asarum flowers in the garden are June-September. 

One of our first time offerings this year is a selection we made of the Japanese Asarum kurosawae that we named Asarum ‘Saddleback’. (Zone 7a-8b, at least)In late winter, we remove the old foliage in the center of the clump so that we can enjoy the flowers as you can see below. 

Most of our asarums start as single divisions, and after 3-4 years, we divide them for the first time, resulting in 5-10 plants.  A second division 3-4 years later yields another 5-10 plants each, for a total of 25-100 plants. A third division is required 3-4 years later to finally have enough to offer. So, from start to commercialization is usually 9-12 years of production time.


Tony demonstrates how to divide asarum (wild ginger) during the winter.


Asarum takaoi ‘Ginba’ below is an old Japanese cultivar that we first offered in 2015, and again this year. We first obtained this in 2003, so that’s only 2 offerings in 16 years. There’s a reason that most nurseries don’t bother with these.  At least now, we have been able to build up a stock block for future propagation.  We hope you’ll take a peek below the foliage for a truly great floral show. (Zone 4b-8a)

A new asarum that will be coming in another year or so, is our yellow-flowered selection of the typically purple-flowered Asarum ichangense, that we named ‘Ichang Lemon’. It’s in full bloom now, so if you can make it to our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, be sure to take a peak.  (Zone 5a-8a, guessing)  To learn more about wild gingers in the woodland garden, join us for our free garden chat series, Gardening Unplugged, the second Sunday of our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, May 3 at 2:00pm  

Find the Silver Lining

Here’s a new image of our 2017 introduction, Asarum ichangense ‘Silver Lining‘ in the garden this week. Our 17 year old patch is nearing 3’ wide…pretty special in the woodland garden. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8a, at least.

Winter Wonders – Asarum

Asarum, also know as wild ginger, are a deer-resistant woodland perennial. They perform well in moist but well-drained soils. Many are evergreen and will slowly form a dense groundcover. Below is a selection of our North American native Asarum arifolium selected by Plant Delights in 2006 and introduced in 2015.

picture of Asarum-Silver Spreader GH

Asarum ‘Silver Spreader’ in the sales house

picture of Asarum-arifolium-Silver-Spreader flowers

Asarum ‘Silver Spreader’ flowers

Asarum flowers are almost alien-like and are born at ground level in late winter. We have many new selections of asarum available this year, so check us out online when you are ready to add wild gingers to your woodland garden.