A beetle’s eye view of a wild ginger plant showing the interesting flower prostrate on the ground.
Wild ginger – As one might suspect from its common name, wild ginger has been used as substitute for the spice known as ginger, which comes from an entirely unrelated plant. Early colonists were eager to find flavorings to replace those that they knew from home, and the rhizomes of wild ginger filled that need. All one needs to do is scratch the exposed rhizome (an underground stem that is often exposed at the top of the soil) to smell the gingery fragrance. However, research has shown the rhizomes to contain aristolochic acid, a known carcinogen, so this use is no longer recommended.
The odd maroon and white flowers of wild ginger lie on the ground, hidden under the heart-shaped fuzzy leaves. They attract few insect visitors, and thus are usually self-pollinated, but the primary method of propagation is vegetatively by the spreading rhizomes. Thus, the plants in a colony of wild ginger are genetically identical and form a clone. Gardeners are fond of wild ginger for use as a ground cover in a shade garden.