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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Thursday, August 08, 2013

When A Ginger Is Just A "Ginger"

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.

What do you think of when you hear "Ginger plant"? The first one that comes to my mind is Hedychium coronarium, the fragrant white-flowering ginger, also called Hawaiian White Ginger or
Butterfly Ginger. I brought a tiny root back from the airport gift shop in Hawaii more than a decade ago and have it growing in a few places in my garden. I can still remember how thrilling it was when my plant first bloomed in 2004.


You can find fancier, named varieties of Hedychium with larger flowers in many colors but I still love the white one... reminds me of the loved and long-discontinued Avon sticks in Hawaiian White Ginger scent.
Each summer I hope for the return of the fragrant blooms - in some years they are few but this year buds have formed on one plant.

Maybe Ginger to you means true, edible ginger, Zingiber officinale? I once started a plant from one of the fresh ginger roots from the produce section but it was very tender and didn't survive. The leaves look similar to my white ginger but it's grown for the root, not the flowers.

Perhaps, like many people in Austin, you think of the large-leaved variegated ginger grown in containers and in the ground. A few years ago I picked up a pot from the bargain table at a big box nursery for a couple of dollars. I'm pretty good about keeping lists of plant purchases, but I didn't even bother to write this one down, sure it was just a tender, one-season foliage plant.

Over the first winter the foliage died back badly but the leaves struggled back up to form a sadly diminished foliage plant that summer.

Its fortitude earned the ginger a place in the garage for Winter 2009-2010, safe from freezes but subject to dust and sawdust.

With the return of warm weather the pot was dragged back onto the front porch.

Then in 2010 my friend Ellen bought a couple of Variegated gingers from the reduced-for-quick sale section at a big HEB store - she brought one to me and I put it in another pot, to have one on each side of the front door.

Both pots of variegated ginger grew and were dragged back in the garage for winter 2011-12.

Last spring they came out front to grow some more. But they didn't grow in quite the same way - one had clusters of leaves on stalks and one sent more pointed leaves sprawling in every direction.
Finally I got the message - these plants were not the same plant.

Ellen's gift was definitely a variegated Shell Ginger, best guess was Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'.

But my bargain baby was something else.
It seemed to be some variety of Ctenanthe lubbersiana - maybe just variegata or maybe one of the named varieties. Some sites called it Bamburanta and others Prayer Plant. Some people on GardenWeb called it California Ginger - this seems to be a name used by home centers when they sell Ctenanthe as tropical plants.

By late fall 2012 both plants needed repotting.
After a redo, the Shell Ginger was in a larger decorated pot set in a corner of the porch.

I split the Not-Shell Ginger into two rather gawky plants, one for each side of the door.

When I cut off some stalks with browned leaves, I noticed the way the leaves were attached in small fans at the top of the stalks. I pulled off a few fans and poked them into another pot on the patio, and stuck a few more fans in smaller pots.

My instincts were right - the fans rooted and soon I had a third plant growing with a Blue Butterfly Clerodendron, something that also needed to be in the garage for winter.

This summer the front pots of Ctenanthe/California Ginger look pretty good, under the overhang of the veranda, in partial shade from a large tree.

They need water a few times each week in warm weather, but not every day.

And after a recent grooming session I have more pieces stuck in pots in hope they'll root.

The porch was too small for the Shell Ginger - in back it can get a mix of sun and shade and spread out.

As a foliage plant it is just fine, but now I have higher ambitions for my Shell Ginger! In June some friends and I went on the NXNA garden walk and saw this enormous plant in bloom against a brick wall. Wow!

Two mild winters in a row meant that flower buds on Shell Ginger plants all over Austin didn't freeze but lived to bloom, surprising many of the gardeners who had nurtured them for years without ever seeing a flower. Sometimes patience is rewarded with great beauty.

 This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.


  1. Hi Annie, your prowess in propagating your ginger is pretty impressive! When I think ginger it immediately reminds me of the ginger plants that adorn the grounds at the place we stay in Mexico each year. But that ginger is yellow and has "waxy" looking blossoms that form a torch. Yours are much more delicate looking blooms, almost like an orchid! Aside from that, the only ginger I know is the ginger root at the grocery store. Nice post!

    1. Hello LostRoses,
      I try all kinds of things that fail - so this must be pretty easy or I couldn't have done it!
      I've seen other species of Hedychuum/Gingers flowering in yellow, coral, pink etc in the Plant Delights catalog. They are way fancier than my H. coronaria. Maybe that's what you see in Mexico?


  2. The first gingers that come to mind are cinnamon-ginger tea, chewy ginger candy, and yummy ginger snaps! But as far as plants go, I think of the alpinia, because it is the one I have. :-)

    If it makes you feel any better, the culinary ginger must be a dickens to grow in general. They finally have one in the working glasshouse at our botanical garden...after a few years of failed attempts and a long dormant time where they were tempted to throw it out!

    1. Hi Kim,

      If it's a glasshouse the problem shouldn't be cold - I wonder if there's a daylength thing going on? Cculinary ginger is supposed to be super simple in containers in Hawaii -I remember being shocked at how early it got dark there in June.

      Darn it - haven't had a ginger snap in years but want one now!


  3. I just got back from Dominica where the white ginger grows like a weed on the roadsides. I got a couple roots I need to plant out. They are such lovely blooms.

    The other ginger I have is the shell ginger but mine has only bloomed a couple time, I think it does not get enough water.

    1. I hope your white ginger does well for you, Nicole! I've been reasonably good about hand watering my shell ginger & when it gets cold here it'll go into the garage - maybe we'll both get lucky & see our plants bloom next year?



  4. Great post on Gingers. They are one of my favorites and grow well on the Gulf Coast.

  5. Hi Anne, I have the white flowering ginger, the Hedychium coronarium. Can I harvest that ginger, is it edible?

    1. Hi Laura - as far as I know, the only edible ginger is Zingiber officinale - culinary ginger. I don't think Hedychium is toxic, but am pretty sure it will not have the true ginger flavor.


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