Asarum europaeum (European ginger) is a wonderful foliage plant for the shade. The rounded, cordate (heart shaped) leaves are thick and extra glossy. When they bloom, these perennials will have small, inconspicuous flowers, like tiny cups under the leaves. The polished foliage is the main attraction. I especially like the way they reflect the smallest amount of light in the shadows. The leaves spread out flat above the soil surface, making a great groundcover.
You can see the newly emerging perennial leaves are folded tightly in half and are a fresh green colour. The large, flat leaf in front is from last year. About half of the leaves remain on the plant from last season, some in good shape, and some not.
Here the symmetrical leaves of Asarum Europaeum are partly open, and starting to separate. They are luminous in the dappled light. I noticed that the plants which lost their old leaves over the winter were the first to pop up gleaming new leaves in the spring. I like the way the new leaves of this low-growing perennial appear to be coming directly up from the soil. There are horizontal stems at the soil surface.
The little hearts are opening along their line of symmetry, flattening out. The lighter patterns along the veins are noticeable on the inside of the European ginger leaves.
In this photo you can see the old dark green foliage from last year close to the ground, as well as the fresh light green leaves rising up in the centre. My one group of seven Asarum plants on the east side of my yard all came back, but I only see seven out of nine plants from this group so far. It is still early in the season, so they might be waiting for a better forecast before they come out.
Here is another picture of the shiny new Asarum leaves appearing, like arrows from the ground. They are gleaming on the top surface, even when they are only half open.
The European ginger does not mind a late spring snow. The leaves looked perfectly fine afterwards, which is a great trait for a foliage plant.
It is difficult to get a good picture of the flower, since they are very small, and hidden under the leaves, sideways on the ground. The purplish brown structure in the middle of the above photo is the flower. Having your flowers laying on the ground makes it easy for insects that hang out at the soil surface to pollinate your flowers. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see how tomentose (hairy) the flowers are, like the stems.
This group of Asarum have some Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) planted behind them on one side, but it is much slower to come up in the spring. On their other side, there is a group of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss). The fern is very lacy, and makes a nice contrast, while the Brunnera have a similar cordate leaf, with a silver pattern. On the other side of the yard, I have another group of Asarum europaeum in front of some Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady fern with red stems), and next to some Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’. Again they make a nice combination of lacy fern, red stems, silver foliage and lustrous little rounded hearts.
These shiny leaves will enlarge, and make a lovely perennial groundcover under the trees. They make a good contrast to other shade foliage. The hardy plants keep their foliage after frost, looking good until they are covered up. I recommend Asarum europaeum to make a pleasing green carpet in the shade, in the dappled light under deciduous trees.