Chinese Wild Ginger: Asarum splendens

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UT Gardens’ November 2021 Plant of the Month

Submitted by Carol Reese, Retired UT Extension Horticulture Expert

Chinese wild ginger is a shining example of a tough and versatile ginger.

If you are tired of groundcovers so ordinary that you don’t even see them anymore, then you will appreciate the exquisite glossy marbling on each leaf of Chinese ginger. Asarum splendens is a spreading evergreen member of the pipevine family, Aristolochiaceae, and develops into a groundcover that spreads swiftly enough to achieve satisfying coverage but not so fast as to be rampantly difficult to control. With a height of just 6-8 inches, Chinese ginger provides a low but richly textured flooring under azaleas, aucuba or bigleaf hydrangeas.

Its substantial cordate leaves offer bolder foliage than the typical evergreen groundcovers, well appreciated in the shade garden once the summer foliage of hostas have been erased by frost.

Winter containers benefit from its mounding dark foliage to anchor sparkling golden or variegated sedges and saucy pansies. The deep green leaves are almost black yet offer shimmering glints of silver when struck by light. Don’t worry about putting Chinese ginger into all day sun during the cooler months. During summer, either move the container to a shady setting or add a tall plant to the combination that can offer shelter from the sun during the hottest parts of the day. 

In the landscape, remember that its very dark foliage can make it almost disappear in deep shade, so bring it forward where it can enjoy a few hours of late or early sunlight, or use in bright shade – or at least provide some contrast with lighter foliaged plants for backdrop.  

The shiny leaves of Chinese wild ginger are create an interesting composition with nearby plants of varying heights and foliage. Image courtesy UTIA.

This plant does well in dry shade as long as soils are not terribly droughty and is happy in the company of autumn fern, heuchera and hellebore. It is deer resistant, and durably perennial in Zones 5 to 9. In the very coldest Tennessee winters or regions, it may lose some foliage to a severe drop in temperatures but will rebound in spring.

Let’s face it, most evergreen perennials generally fall into two categories – the overused and predictable groundcovers or the sadly underutilized – when there are many that can play a variety of roles for year-round interest. 

Specimens of Chinese wild ginger are located at the UT Gardens, Jackson, in the north shrub border, and at the UT Gardens, Knoxville, in the tranquility hosta garden.

Specimens of Chinese wild ginger are located at the UT Gardens, Jackson, in the north shrub border, and at the UT Gardens, Knoxville, in the tranquility hosta garden. The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the Gardens website.

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