Common Name: shell ginger
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: White with yellow inside lips and red throat
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Suggested Use: Annual
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Colorful, Evergreen
Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10 where it is best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Some nurseries currently claim that shell ginger can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA Zone 7 with winter protection. Plants appreciate some afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Soils must not be allowed to dry out. In St. Louis, this plant is often grown as a houseplant or in the greenhouse. As a houseplant, it must have bright light and humid conditions. Prune as needed to control plant size. It may also be grown outdoors in the garden, but rhizomes should be dug and stored indoors for winter in a dry medium (as vermiculite) in a cool room. Plants will not flower until the second year (flower on old growth), so if grown outdoors, either as annuals or for overwintering indoors, they generally will not flower and must be enjoyed only for their attractive foliage.
Alpinia zerumbet, commonly called shell ginger is native to eastern Asia. It is a rhizomatous, evergreen perennial that grows in upright clumps to 8-10’ tall. It more typically reaches 4-8’ tall in the greenhouse and 3-4’ tall as a houseplant. It is commonly called shell ginger because its individual shell pink flowers, particularly when in bud, resemble sea shells and its rhizomes have a ginger-like aroma. It is distinguished from other members of the ginger family by the fact that its flowers droop from the ends of leafy stems rather than rise directly from plant rhizomes. Waxy, light pink flower buds open to tubular flowers with yellow inside lips and red throats. Flowers are fragrant. Flowers appear in drooping racemes (to 1’ long) in summer. Lance-shaped green leaves to 2’ long and 5” wide.
Genus name honors Italian botanist Prospero Alpino (1553-1616).
‘Variegata’, as the name suggests, features variegated foliage. Dark green leaves have attractive yellow stripes. Fragrant pink-tinged flowers bloom in summer.
No serious insect or disease problems.
Large containers. Houseplant. Greenhouses. Garden annual. As a houseplant, consider A. zerumbet ‘Variegata’ which is a smaller, more compact plant with variegated foliage.
‘Variegata’ is often grown solely for its striking foliage. Excellent as a specimen or in small groups.