Photo: Sarah Gregg (flickr)
Wild ginger is one of the best ground covers for deep shade. Not many plants can endure such low light so it is excellent for problem areas.
While it is not colorful or showy, the handsome leaves overlap and create dense cover. The broad heart-shaped leaves grow in pairs, arising from a branching rootstock near to the soil’s surface. The foliage appears early in the spring, forming a tidy and glossy mat.
Wild ginger’s flowers are quite inconspicuous, with short stems and a bell shape. They measure only about one inch across so can hardly be seen. Their color is an odd brownish shade of purple, and the leaves usually conceal them.
The plant is known by the common name wild ginger because the rootstock has a ginger flavor, and the ancients ground it into a powder and used it to settle queasy stomachs.
The plant enjoys rich, woodsy soil in shaded areas. It can be found growing wild from New Brunswick, south to North Carolina and west to Manitoba and Missouri. It starts to bloom in April in the south and in May in the north, and the blooms stay on for a long time, persisting until the large thick seeds have ripened. It can easily be transplanted in early spring or even in the fall if it is well mulched with leaves.