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Monday, April 9, 2012

In the understory

This perennial herb is found in the understory of moist woodlands from British Columbia to California (primarily northern and central California).  The photograph below was taken in Sebastopol on 26 March 2012, but the flowering period spans late winter through early summer (late FebruaryJune).

Ray introduced me to Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum) in Otis, Oregon.  Looking for the flowers is an adventure, as they grow horizontally close to the ground and are often hidden by leaves. 

The leaves are large and heart-shaped (cordate) or kidney-shaped (reniform).  On this specimen, the largest leaf was ~5" wide and 6" long.

The flowers are deep maroon.  The calyx lobes form a hairy (hirsute) cup at the base, then flare to extremely long, tapering tips.  The narrow tips on this flower were ~2.5" long.

Interestingly, although similar in appearance to flowers that are pollinated by carrion insects, Wild Ginger flowers don't produce nectar or fragrance.  Instead, they are primarily self-pollinating.  The seeds are dispersed by ants.  [Although the flowers don't produce an odor, when the plant is crushed it smells like lemon-ginger.]

Native Americans used the root or leaves to treat a variety of symptoms (e.g., stomach/intestinal pain, headache, arthritis, tuberculosis). 

P.S.  Cooking ginger is an entirely different plant (Zingiber officinale) probably native to Southeast Asia and cultivated widely in the tropics.

P.P.S.  I've heard that Wild Ginger grows in Coleman Valley (a few miles northeast of the town of Bodega Bay), but if you find one closer to Bodega Head, I'd love to hear about it!

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