Naturalist’s Notebook: Little Brown Jugs

Today, I found some interesting little plants growing in the woods near my house. They never get tall—only a few inches above the forest floor—and, the leaves are green throughout the year. Leaves are heart-shaped or arrowhead-shaped and are 3-4inches long and not quite as wide. 

The plant’s name is Wild Ginger, but people who know it well sometimes call it Little Brown Jugs. 

Little Brown Jugs? What a strange name for a wildflower! Even more strange is that this plant does not want any of the usual pollinators—bees, wasps, flies, or butterflies—to ever see its flowers. If they did see one, they probably wouldn’t recognize it as a flower at all.

The flowers are tucked in right at the base of the leaves, and you have to really search for them. They are usually hidden under fallen leaves and barely poke out of the forest soil. They are not colorful at all, and they don’t have a pleasant smell. They look just like little brown jugs or like little green jugs if they are fresh. 

This plant relies on small beetles that live on the forest floor to enter the open ends of the jug and to pollinate the weird blooms. They then spread its seeds by moving them to other places nearby. Ants probably also help with this important job. 

It seems that I might have two different types in my woods. One has solid green leaves, and the other type has leaves that get a bit larger, are more pointed, and have mottled light and dark green areas. I took photos of both, so you can compare.

As you explore around your house, don’t forget that plants are an important part of the nature that surrounds you. You might find that some, such as the Little Brown Jugs, have very different and unusual lifestyles.

Mr. Bill

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