Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hexastylis: A welcome bit of green on a grey day

Some leaves are variegated, some aren't

A vivid patch of green caught my eye the other day over at Dean. Even though this is a warmer than usual winter, it's still quite grey outside and anything this vibrant is bound to get noticed. I'd seen it before, I'm sure, but never payed much attention to it until now. When I saw it the other day and realized I didn't really know what it was, nor did I remember seeing it growing anywhere else, I began to wonder what it might be.

More heart-shaped than the larger patch

My first guess was Galax, Asarum, or Hepatica, but Galax typically grows near creek edges in bottomlands and this is a rocky dry hillside. Galax also has toothed leaf margins, and these are smooth. Hepatica leaves aren't as round as these, and Asarum isn't evergreen. It took me a while to figure out, but thanks to my books, I've settled on Hexastylis virginica, or Virginia Heartleaf. There seems to be quite a bit of variation amongst the leaves, which made me wonder if there are actually two different varieties here. They're related to Asarum (Wild Ginger) and Aristalochia (Dutchman's Pipe). I can't wait to see the flowers, which will be small, brown, and probably underwhelming if not bizarre. Supposedly they're pollinated by Carrion Flies and Fungus Gnats. I couldn't find much info on the internet about Virginia Heartleaf, which makes me wonder if this is a rare plant. Have you seen it where you live? Is it rare?

A mixture, even some Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in the bottom right corner


  1. We have two native evergreen gingers here: Hexastylis arifolia and Hexastylis shuttleworthii. The H. shuttleworthii has smaller leaves, quilted leaves (you can felt the white lines) and it has much larger and showier flowers than H. arifolia. In fact the common name is "large flowered ginger". However, H. arifolia is way more common, quite common really in the woods, while the Shuttleworth ginger is generally only found near streams.

    I still remember when the evergreen members of Asarum were split off to the genus Hexastylis. A sad and tongue-twisting day.

  2. Nice discovery, I have not seen any Hexastylis before. What great features especially the mottled leaves.

  3. And as always, Julie finds us a new plant. I go out for a trail run and find a patch on a similar rocky hillside right where I park...almost everyday:)

  4. Do you mean to tell me that calling it asarum is wrong?
    Who changed the name and didn't tell me?
    Can I keep calling it little brown jug?

    I'd totally like to invite you to read the new post on my stonethegardener blog about landrace cropping...
    Not sure you've seen that blog...