wild_ginger_flower_4-2-12.jpg

Photo of wild ginger flower
Julianna Schroeder
Edible
Skin irritating
Family

Aristolochiaceae (birthworts)

Description

A low-growing, hairy plant, spreading from creeping underground stems. Flowers usually hidden by the leaves, arising from leaf axils, 3-parted, red-brown or purplish brown, with stiff, white hairs. Flowers emit a scent of decaying fruit. Blooms April-May. Leaves large, rounded or heart- or kidney-shaped, strongly veined, leathery with a shiny surface, hairy. Rhizomes fleshy, intertwined and branching; with stems not rising into the air.

Size

Height: to about 6 inches.

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Photo of wild ginger foliage
Wild Ginger (Foliage)
Wild ginger foliage. Note the flower bud forming at the base of this plant.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs on rich, wooded bottomland and upland slopes, banks and terraces of streams and rivers, in moist valleys and ravines, and at the bases of bluffs.

image of Wild Ginger distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, but absent from the southeast lowlands and a few western counties.

Human connections

The roots have been used as a ginger substitute, and this plant was once used medicinally to treat several maladies. It is increasing in popularity as a shade-tolerant ground cover. Handling the plants may cause dermatitis in some people.

Ecosystem connections

The odor and color of the flowers attract pollinating insects. It should be noted that our wild ginger is completely unrelated to true ginger, which is in the ginger family and which is more closely related to cannas, bananas, bird-of-paradise, and prayer-plants.