Etlingera elatior
Common Name: torch ginger 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Zingiberaceae
Native Range: Thailand, Malesia, New Guinea
Zone: 10 to 12
Height: 6.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 4.00 to 10.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Yellow flowers on red bracts
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-12 where this plant is best grown in humus-rich, well-drained soils in full sun to light shade. Prefers consistently moist soils. Mulch helps maintain good soil moisture. Plants must be protected from strong winds which can snap off the leafstalks. Plants are monocarpic (flower stems die after flowering with new stems developing at the base). Plants are totally intolerant of frost. They also will often perform poorly in frost-free climates when night temperatures dip below 50 degrees F. These plants probably should not be grown indoors in cooler climates, however, because they will grow much shorter with less vitality and probably will not flower.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Etlingera elatior, commonly known as torch ginger, is a tropical rhizomatous perennial of the ginger family that grows to 12-15’ tall in tropical climates but much shorter in cooler climates. It is native to Malayasia and Indonesia where it is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. Arching leafstalks to 15’ tall are clad with ribbed, leathery, banana-like leaves (to 3’ long), each having a central groove. Naked flower stalks rise directly from the rhizomes to 3’ tall, each stalk being topped by a cone-shaped inflorescence containing tiny yellow flowers over tiny fertile bracts, both of which are somewhat hidden inside of and subtended by large, drooping, showy petal-like red bracts. Flowers bloom throughout the year. Each naked flower stalk with crowning terminal inflorescence purportedly resembles a torch, hence the common name of torch ginger for this plant.

Stems are sometimes sliced into small pieces and added to curries and soups.

Genus name honors Andreas Ernst Etlinger, 18th century botanist.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word elatus meaning tall.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Ornamental tropical plant. Good cut flower.