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Is Wild Ginger a 'Garden Invader'? Or a great plant for shady sites?

Wild ginger taking over a blue hosta!
Photo: Mary H. Meyer, UMN Extension
I love wild ginger, Asarum canadense, and was so happy to get it growing in my garden in the past few years. Where did I get this plant? Maybe the Arboretum plant sale, which often has a good selection of native plants or from a friend. In any case, I was happy to see how easy it was to grow in my predominately dry shade garden.

Once I had a large patch or two, I tried moving it and found the basal stems easily rooted and if I cut back the large leaves, it was easy to transplant, even more so if I dug up the rhizomes.  So from two clumps, I soon had 4 or 5 and gee, that was easy and wow, wild ginger became my go to plant for any bare corner in the shade.

Is it a garden 'invader'?

Fast forward to 2020 and I am beginning to think this plant is quite aggressive and can quickly take over an area. And now small plants are appearing often in my garden. And nowhere near other wild ginger.

Where are these seedlings coming from? How can the seed be dispersing? !! Suddenly wild ginger is everywhere. Is this lovely native plant a garden invader that I will never be rid of?
Wild ginger stems with roots and basal flowers.
Photo: Mary H. Meyer, UMN Extension

How it spreads to surprising places...

Maybe. I am still loving it, but do be careful where you place it. Clumps can grow quite large quickly especially with adequate rain and moist conditions. Wild ginger flowers are unusual and sit just at the soil where soil insects can easily pollinate them.

Ants love wild ginger seeds due to the small oil filled appendage on the seed called an elaiosome that is attractive food. Ants carry wild ginger the seeds to their nests, eating the elaiosome, and leaving the seed to germinate, thus spreading the ginger throughout our gardens.

Can I use it to make tea?

Although the root may smell like ginger, this is really not an edible plant, so do not try to make tea with it or use it like the herb ginger, Zingiber officinale that we commonly eat. Our native wild ginger is mildly poisonous and although Native Americans had uses for it, many references will advise against ingesting the plant.

For now, I am happy to have wild ginger as a plant for shade, and dry shade, which continues to increase in my aging garden.


For more information:
USDA Plant of the Week: Wild Ginger

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Professor and Extension Horticulturist 
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