Thursday, March 27, 2008

Asarum Minor Is Major Cool

Asarum minor (which should actually now be called Hexastylis minor) is a small, wild ginger native to the mid-Atlantic states, west into Kentucky and Tennessee. It is evergreen in nature (which is why it is now in the genus Hexastylis, where all the evergreen gingers were placed). Surprisingly, it is also evergreen in our much more northerly and more inclement climate here on the western edge of the long grass prairie country. I am quite amazed that these thick, shiny leaves came through our vicious winter unscathed (perhaps I am hasty even at this late date in pronouncing our winter done, as light snow is predicted for today; this has become "the winter that would not die").
The plant pictured is a special cultivar of Asarum minor found in North Carolina, and distributed by Plant Delights Nursery; they have named it 'Dixie Darling'. It was selected for its very prominent silver veining on the leaves, which appears in summer. I actually prefer the plant in the cold weather of late fall and early spring, when the leaves take on dark maroon highlights with a faint silver wash. The flowers are quite striking too, being reddish maroon with white spots. I don't seem to have a picture of the flowers, probably because when the plant blooms, its flowers are pretty well hidden by the leaves.
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Here, about 40 miles west of Chicago, Asarum minor 'Dixie Darling' struggles through my winters. So even after a couple of years, the clump is still really small. Maybe it's because I don't have good woodland soil, rather the amended shady border of a suburban plot. So it's a real pleasure to see it thriving elsewhere. Awesome!
Well, I just learned something new--that the evergreen Asarum were in another genus. Thanks for telling us that. And what a beauty this Dixie Darling is. I have the standard Asarum canadense, I think it is, in our garden, and while it's been slow to spread, it is a handsome plant under our spruce trees. And the little flowers are so funny looking. This year I WILL get photos of them...
That's a beautiful Hexastylis (gotta get used to saying that). I've been wanting to get some other Asarums/ Hexastyli to complement my Asarum canadense.
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Betty... by nature it's a small plant (it's sometimes called 'little heartleaf'). However, I've found gingers to be tricky; they will grow happily in one spot, and disappear in another for no obvious reason. My minor is growing under an oak tree; maybe it likes acid soil?

Jodi... When I was a child, we used to call Asarum canadense 'witche's thimbles'.

MMD... There are several nice ones we can grow.

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