Hartweg’s Wild Ginger

Hartweg’s wild ginger (Asarum hartwegii) is blooming at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park (Shasta County CA). I was so happy to find the plants and be able to photograph the flowers.

Although there are several other wild ginger species in North America, Hartweg’s wild ginger is native and endemic to California. It is found in dark forests with plenty of shade where its sprawling rootstocks trail through the damp leaf mold and duff.

Like other members of the birthwort family, Hartweg’s wild ginger has large heart-shaped leaves and red-brown flowers with three petal-like sepals that flair out from a semi-inferior, cuplike ovary surrounded by twelve stamens. Birthworts have no petals.

Hartweg’s wild ginger leaves occur at the tips of long petioles that arise directly from the rootstocks. The leaves are dark green and distinctly patterned in white along the veins. The flowers are borne at ground level at the leaf axils and are almost invisible under the large leaves. The leaf stalks are hairy. The three flower sepals taper to points. The fruits are fleshy capsules with many seeds.

When crushed, the entire wild ginger plant has a strong ginger smell. Although not related,  wild ginger tastes like commercially available gingerroot. The entire plant can be eaten fresh or dried as a ginger substitute. Medicinally wild ginger can be used in the same way as gingerroot. Wild ginger tea settles the stomach. Native peoples used wild ginger as a poultice to ease arthritis, a vasodilator and to treat tuberculosis.

Karl Hartweg (1812-1871), a German collector for the London Horticultural Society, is honored by the species name.

I was delighted to find a colony of Hartweg’s wild ginger plants.

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