Zingiber zerumbet

Common Name: bitter ginger 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Zingiberaceae
Native Range: India
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 4.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: August to September
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Herb
Flower: Showy

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10 where plants are best grown in full sun to part shade in areas with high humidity and consistently moist summer soils. Less soil moisture is needed in winter when plants go dormant. Plants will naturalize in the garden by thick, branching, aromatic rhizomes. A single plant can expand to form a large clump within several years. In Zones 8-10, rhizomes do not need to be lifted in fall for overwintering indoors, but a winter mulch may be appropriate in areas of Zone 8. North of Zone 8, rhizomes must be lifted in fall and brought indoors for overwintering in a cool location. Propagate by rhizome division in late winter to early spring.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Zingiber zerumbet, commonly known as pinecone ginger, shampoo ginger or wild ginger, is a rhizomatous, clump-forming perennial which typically grows to 3.5-4’ tall, but occasionally to 6-7’ tall, on reed-like stems (to 30” long) clad with narrow green leaves. It is native to India and Southeast Asia where it is often cultivated as a home garden plant. It has been transported over time to many tropical areas in the Pacific Ocean with subsequent naturalization. Polynesians brought this plant to Hawaii in canoes many years ago. Although native to tropical areas, this plant goes dormant in winter and accordingly is not evergreen. It is now cultivated worldwide for its culinary and medical uses.

In spring, each plant produces 9-12 blade-shaped leaves (each to 8” long) on erect stems rising to 4’ tall. Flower stalks emerge from the rhizomes in mid- to late summer, each being topped by a globular inflorescence (to 4” long) of overlapping, green waxy bracts resembling a pine cone. Insignificant, 3-petaled, pale yellowish-white flowers begin to bloom, a few at a time, from between the bracts. Inflorescences are initially green but gradually turn red as they fill with a creamy, ginger-scented, sap-like liquid, finally maturing to bright red after flowering is completed. Flower stalks are shorter than the leaf stalks and often remain somewhat concealed within the plant.

Rhizome extracts have been traditionally used in herbal medicines in parts of eastern Asia.

Genus name comes from the Greek name which, in turn, is said to derive from an East Indian word cognate with Pali sigivera.

Common name of pinecone ginger is in reference to the pinecone shape of the inflorescence. Shampoo ginger common name relates to the creamy liquid substance in the cones which may be extracted by squeezing for use as a hair shampoo and/or hair conditioner. This substance is an added ingredient in some commercial shampoos. Wild ginger common name relates to the use of the rhizome as a food additive for culinary flavoring in various cuisines. These rhizomes are clearly edible, but bitter tasting in comparison to the commonly-sold rhizomes of commercial ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. For more information see: Problems Common to Many Indoor Plants

Garden Uses

Fast growing landscape plant for tropical effect. Cone-shaped inflorescences are long lasting and good for flower arrangements. The rhizome has been traditionally used in tropical Pacific Islands and in parts of western Asia as a food flavoring and herbal medicine. May be grown in containers.