Plants possess beauty, ease of culture and resistance to disease and insects

August 21, 2008

By Maria Sobczak,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by  Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Photo Credit: Nancy Kramer/Victoria County Master Gardener
Various genera of gingers have dazzling blooms that resemble their names. The bud of the shell ginger, above, in porcelain white with pink opens into a spectacular yellow bloom with glowing center. The bloom of the yellow butterfly ginger resembles a flittering butterfly. The foliage of various peacock gingers serve as great ground cover, is usually more ornate than the bloom and looks like large peacock plumes. The dancing lady ginger has whimsical color and frolic to its bloom.
Photo Credit:
Suzann Herricks/Victoria County Master Gardener

Shown when the pink torch blooms on the bank of the water garden at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG), green leaves have since grown tall, surrounding any newly emerging flowers, thus its name Hidden Ginger.
Photo Credit: Maria Sobczak/Victoria County Master Gardener
The same ginger in another "coat of many colors" is seen with the bloom hidden below the larger foliage.
Photo Credit: Bob Beyer/SE Texas Gardening
The foliage of various peacock gingers serve as great ground cover, is usually more ornate than the bloom and looks like large peacock plumes.
Photo Credit: Bob Beyer/SE Texas Gardening
The bloom of the yellow butterfly ginger resembles a flittering butterfly.

ALPINIAS – (“Shell” gingers) like medium to full sun. Native to Southeast Asia, New Guinea, tropical Australia and Pacific Islands

CURCUMAS – (“Hidden” gingers) sometimes produce bloom before foliage appears; others produce bloom after foliage matures. Native to Indomalaysia and China

GLOBBAS – (“Dancing” gingers) are small shade plants, most 2 feet or less. They reseed from little white bulblets that drop and produce new plants in abundance. Native to China and Indomalaysia.

HEDYCHIUMS – (“Butterfly” gingers) enjoy medium to full sun and can tolerate more sun than other gingers. Native to Madagascar, Indomalaysia and Southwest China.

KAEMPFERIAS – (“Peacock” gingers) are perfect as a ground cover, especially in shade. Native to tropical Africa and Southeast Asia

ZINGIBERS – (“Cone” or “Soap” gingers) can grow in medium to full sun. Native to Eastern Asia, Indomalaysia and Northern Australia.

Photo Credit: Forest and Kim Starr/SE Texas Gardening
The dancing lady ginger has whimsical color and frolic to its bloom.
When I first became a master gardener, and overheard others talking about their ginger plants, I thought that they must do a lot of baking, because the term “ginger” made me think of gingerbread cookies, gingerbread houses, etc. I’ll admit it. I was a Yankee transplant and had never heard of ginger as a landscaping entity. Since then, I have learned differently and marvel at the variety of gingers available.

As I wanted to become more knowledgeable of the plants, I asked one of my fellow master gardeners to enlighten me. Instead, she gifted me with a specimen and told me to learn all about it. That’s a teacher for you.


Well, at first I was not a very good student. I simply put it in a pot on my patio and expected it to thrive. I was told they were good potted plants, and I wanted it to prove it to me. It survived in the heat and humidity, but never really looked very pretty. I finally decided to put it in the ground – and it has thanked me ever since. It is a variegated ginger and loves the early to late morning sunshine that it gets under my towering oak tree.

It was while I waited to check-out at a local nursery, that I picked up a publication called Homegrown, which is published bimonthly just up the road in Taylor. It has many guest columnists, some local horticultural experts and others from as far away as Houston, Georgetown, College Station and to the outer reaches of Texas. A piece titled “Gingers – Jewels of the Garden” by Betty Lenderman from Richmond caught my eye and filled in a lot of blanks for me about the mysterious beauties. As Lenderman wrote, “they all possess the qualities that we gardeners look for – beauty, ease of culture and resistance to disease and insects. Best of all they thrive in our heat and humidity.”


Now whenever I am out and about, I try to notice where others have put their gingers, hoping to get some more ideas of what else might look nice to plant around mine.

I’ve discovered that there are a lot of variegated gingers in this town and doing well.

So, I won’t dwell on it, but introduce you to some others that may, or may not, be as easy to grow, but they do have some interesting and spectacular blooms.


Let’s try a little history first. According to Timothy Sean Chapman’s book “Ornamental Gingers,” gingers are a large family of ornamental, medicinal and edible tropical plants. Ginger is the common name given to members of the families Zingiberaceae and Costaceae (spiral gingers).

Gingers grow in the tropics around the world.

The majority of Zingiberaceae species can be found in Southeast Asia, however some can be found in Africa and even north Australia. There are even a few species in Madagascar.


Chapman goes on to write “only the genus Renealmia can be found in the Americas.” Although no gingers are native to the United States, many species and varieties are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8-10, and since Victoria and surrounding counties fall in that range, we are safe to plant them here.


Now for the introductions, we will begin with one that recently was growing at the Victoria Educational Gardens in the tropical garden near the waterfall. It is the variety Curcuma petiolata.

Master gardener Suzann Herricks and I happened to be there on a day when the first flower, a delicate pink torch, was beginning to come into full bloom.

Since then, the leaves have grown tall, surrounding any newly emerging flowers, thus the name “Hidden Ginger.” I was fortunate enough on a recent trip to take other photos of that type of plant sporting “coats of many other colors” which are also presented here.


A few of the other more common gingers, yet just as intriguing as the hidden ginger, are the ornate plume gingers (Curcuma spp.), the towering stalks of the shell gingers (Alpinia zerumbet), the beautiful butterfly gingers (Hedychium spp.), the peacock gingers (Kaempferia spp.) and the dancing ladies (Globba spp.) All have such interesting names and equally dazzling blossoms.


The November/December 2007 issue of Homegrown contained a recipe for making ginger cologne. The directions called for putting handfuls of butterfly ginger flowers (known for their fragrance) into a quart jar and then filling it with cheap vodka. Shake well and store out of the sun, it read. Shake it every day for a couple of weeks.

Sniff and see if it is strong enough; if not add more flowers and repeat the process.

Well, the only problem was that I had no butterfly ginger flowers, but a friend had some shell gingers blooming, so I thought I would give it a try. Let me tell you, there are just some recipes that you cannot substitute ingredients. My experiment in becoming the next perfume entrepreneur in Victoria went down the drain – literally.


I found, in my research, many Web sites from sources in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, all the way to the San Diego Zoo, that provide wonderful pictures and clear instructions for their care and proper location within your garden.

One I found particularly helpful was
www.southeasttexasgardening.info/ginger.htm. It gave a quick reflection on gingers and then defined the most commonly grown gingers for our area.
The Gardeners’ Dirt is edited by Charla Borchers Leon and is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.