WILD GINGER CANADA SNAKEROOT ASARABACCA





(Asarum Canadense) Birthwort family



Flower - Solitary, dull purplish brown, creamy white within,

about 1 in. broad when expanded, borne on a short peduncle close

to or upon the ground. Calyx cup-shaped, deeply cleft, its 3

acutely pointed lobes spreading, curved; corolla wanting; 12

short, stout stamens inserted on ovary; the thick style 6-lobed,

its stigmas radiating on the lobes. Leaves: A single pair, dark

green, reniform, 4 to 7 in. broad, on downy petioles 6 to 12 in.

high, from a creeping, thick, aromatic, pungent rootstock.

Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods; hillsides.

Flowering Season - March-May.

Distribution - North Carolina, Missouri, and Kansas, northward,

to New Brunswick and Manitoba.



Like the wicked servant who buried the one talent entrusted to

his care, the wild ginger hides its solitary flower if not

actually under the dry leaves that clothe the ground in the still

leafless woodlands, then not far above them. Why? When most

plants flaunt their showy blossoms aloft, where they may be seen

of all, why should this one bear only one dull, firm cup,

inconspicuous in color as in situation? In early spring - and it

is one of the earliest flowers - gnats and small flies are

warming into active life from the maggots that have lain under

dead leaves and the bark of decaying logs all winter. To such

guests a flower need offer few attractions to secure them in

swarms. Bright, beautiful colors, sweet fragrance, luscious

nectar, with which the highly specialized bees, butterflies, and

moths are wooed, would all be lost on them, lacking as they do

esthetic taste. For flies, a snug shelter from cold spring winds

such as Jack-in-the-pulpit, the marsh calla, the pitcher-plant,

or the skunk cabbage offers; sometimes a fetid odor like the

latter's, or dull purplish red or brownish color resembling stale

meat, which the purple trillium likewise wears as an additional

attraction, are necessary when certain carrion flies must be

catered to; and, above all, an abundance of pollen for food -

with any or all of these seductions a flower dependent on flies

has nothing to fear from neglect. Therefore the wild ginger does

not even attempt to fertilize itself. Within the cozy cup one can

usually find a contented fly seeking shelter or food. Close to

the ground it is warm and less windy. When the cup first opens,

only the stigmas are mature and sticky to receive any pollen the

visitors may bring in on their bodies from other asylums where

they have been hiding. These stigmas presently withering, up rise

the twelve stamens beside them to dust with pollen the flies

coming in search of it. Only one flower from a root compels

cross-fertilizing between flowers of distinct plants - a means to

insure the most vigorous seed, as Darwin proved. Evidently the

ginger is striving to attain some day the ambitious mechanism for

temporarily imprisoning its guests that its cousin the Dutchman's

pipe has perfected. After fertilization the cup nods, inverted,

and the leathery capsule following it bursts irregularly,

discharging many seeds.



No ruminant will touch the leaves, owing to their bitter juices,

nor will a grub or nibbling rodent molest the root, which bites

like ginger; nevertheless credulous mankind once utilized the

plant as a tonic medicine.





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