arhs Yachts International
arhs Yachts International


By Carol Dancer

Originally published October 1993

Asarums, commonly known as the ‘wild ginger’ are beautiful low-growing perennial plants usually achieving a height no higher than 15 cm., and often less. The plants spread by rhizomes. The leaves are dark green, usually glabrous and leathery, often shiny with marbled markings. The flowers are bell-shaped with three tail-like petals. The unusually shaped flowers grow at ground level and are hidden among the leaves. They are insignificant to the over-all beauty of the plant. Color is a dull green or brown or a sort of purple-brown. The fruit is a fleshy capsule which splits when ripe exposing numerous seeds. There are about 10 species of asarums. Most come from East Asia, some from North America, and one from Europe.

I grew two asarums in my garden in Dartmouth: Asarum europaeum and Asarum hartwegii. I grew both for their handsome foliage not for their flowers. The leaves of A. hartwegii are heart-shaped, and resemble the leaves of a marbled cyclamen leaf. Some forms are better than others and are a very dark glossy green with prominent veins. The leaves provide a light-reflecting and attractive pattern on the floor of the garden. The leaves of both plants stayed green throughout the year in my garden. In late March and early April the old leaves would wither away as the new leaves emerged. The plants bloomed in May and very early June. Both the leaves and the rhizomes of asarums have a scent reminiscent of ginger; the reason for their common name.

In the wild, asarums grow in rich woodland soils so they make a wonderful underplanting for rhododendrons. Although they spread by rhizomes, they are not rampant growers so there is not much worry about them becoming entangled with rhododendron roots. They need water in dry weather and a top dressing in Spring — the same care rhododendrons need.

Asarums are easy to propagate from seed, in fact self-sown seedlings are common and may be transplanted. A word of warning. Harvest the seeds as soon as they are ripe. I discovered that ants love the seeds and carry them off as soon as the capsule splits. Larger plants can be divided quite easily in late Spring. Simply put a spade through the plant in the same manner one does to divide most perennials. I gave away many pieces from my original plants by doing this, and sold many seedings at our plant sales so there should be a source of seed locally.

We have a native asarum on the east coast called A. canadense. It is a plant, along with A. Caudatum, that I always planned on growing in my garden but never got around to it. John Weagle, I believe, grows A. shuttleworthii.

A. canadense is hardy to zone 2, A. eruopaeum and caudatum to zone 4, and A. hartwigii and shuttleworthii to zone 6. Asarum europaeum of course comes from Europe; the other four come from North America.

Look to various plant societies as a source of seeds. Some nurseries carry asarums.