Canada wild ginger is native to eastern North America. It is protected in Maine as a threatened
species. Canada wild ginger is not related at all to the popular spice we call
true ginger (Zingiber officinale).
The roots smell similar, hence the similar names, but Canada wild ginger is not safe for consumption.
Wild ginger flowers are easy to miss, hidden as they are beneath the leaves, on the ground. There’s a
reason they keep a low profile: they evolved to attract small flies that emerge in the early spring.
The flies are looking for a thawing carcass of some small creature for nutrition, and the flower emanates
a scent similar enough to decomposing flesh to attract the flies and hence pollinate the flowers.
Plants: These are low-growing plants
that do not exceed 12" (30 cm) in height.
Leaves: Each plant has a pair of heart-shaped, rich green leaves,
up to 6-8" (15-20 cm) in size. Leaf stems and leaf undersides have a velvety feel.
Flowers: Flowers are a distinctive purple-brown color, a central cup shape surrounded by three
fused sepals and no petals. They somewhat resemble trillium flowers, and are hidden beneath the
leaves, at ground level.
Fruits: A capsule containing many seeds. The ripened seeds
have appendages called elaiosomes, tipped by a sticky bit of food. Ants carry the seeds to their
nests, eating the food and ignoring the seeds, some of which germinate.
Edibility: Poisonous Although the cooked roots have been used
by some indigenous peoples, as a ginger substitute and a medication, they contain carcinogenic
compounds and are toxic enough to injure the liver and kidneys.