Asarum

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Asarum

 

(wild ginger), a genus of plants of the family Aristolochiaceae (birthwort). They are perennial grasses with creeping rhizomes and shortened stems. The alternate entire leaves are on long stalks. The flowers are solitary, bisexual, and apical. There is a three-parted perianth, which is persistent with the fruits. The plants have 12 stamens. The fruit is a capsule. There are approximately 100 species, distributed primarily in East Asia, Europe, the Caucasus, Western Siberia, and North America. Of the three species found in the USSR, the most common is asarabacca (Asarum europaeum), which measures 2–10 cm tall and is covered with short hairs. The plant has stems with three scale-like leaves and two to three (or five) round, budlike, dark green wintering leaves. The seeds are juicy and are distributed by ants. The asarabacca grows primarily in the broad-leaved forests of the European USSR and in Western Siberia. It smells and tastes like pepper; it contains an essential oil with a poisonous volatile substance, azaron.

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In the absence of the appropriate species of ants, the plants failed to spread by seed and formed odd matlike clones, quite uncharacteristic of natural, ant-endowed forests, where spring ephemerals such as bloodroot and wild ginger are sprinkled about the ground layer in twos and threes.