Wild Ginger – Found in Woods

Q: What is the name of this plant I found in the woods near a creek? The leaves smell pleasantly like ginger when crushed.

A: I call the plant heartleaf, Hexastylis arifolia. It’s also known as wild ginger. It is common in shady damp woods. One of the reasons I don’t like English ivy covering the ground in sites like this is that it chokes out native ferns and clumps of heartleaf.

Callaway Gardens plantsman Fred Galle discovered a distinctly mottled form of wild ginger in the garden of a friend in Decatur. Callaway ginger is variously labeled as Hexastylis shuttleworthii var. harperii or as Asarum shuttleworthii ‘Callaway’. It is an excellent native plant groundcover.

Look at the base of the plant for the “little brown jug” flower. Ants scatter the seed once the flower has matured.

The discussion of whether the correct Latin name of this plant is Hexastylis or Asarum is voluminous and complex. If you need sleep-inducing reading, check out A History of Asarum and Hexastylis.

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