Article for April 2007
& Text by Wilson Wong
by Lynnette Terh
on 7 May 2007
butterfly ginger is a plant that deserves a place in any tropical
themed outdoor garden. It is an unusual ginger that bears flowers
that give off an overpowering, sweet fragrance. If you are looking
for a plant to fill up that shady spot in your fragrant garden,
the butterfly ginger is one suitable candidate. Unlike many tropical,
fragrant flowering shrubs that require a location with full sun
to grow and flower, the butterfly ginger, instead, thrives in
such a location.
commonly seen butterfly gingers available in local nurseries.
From left to right: H. coronarium var. coronarium,
H. coronarium var. chrysoleucum and an unidentified
orange flowered Hedychium.
the name suggests, the shape of the flowers of this ginger resembles
that of a butterfly with its wings spread open. Butterfly gingers
are botanically known as Hedychium coronarium and are,
expectedly, members of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae and
are native to the Himalayan region and southern China. The white
butterfly ginger is the national flower of Cuba.
A colony of butterfly gingers at the Singapore
gingers are herbaceous plants that can grow up to a stately
height of 2 m. The lush, olive green leaves, shaped like a long
dagger are usually smooth on the upperside and may be very slightly
hairy below. They are arranged on opposite sides of the stem
and can grow up to 60 cm long and 10 cm wide. A dense clump
of leafy shoots can result as they continuously rise from the
rhizome that creeps on the ground surface. From afar, a colony
of healthy butterfly gingers can be mistakened for a cornfield!
a stem matures, an inflorescence that looks like a green
cone with numerous overlapping scales, which are actually
bracts, will appear at the end of the stem. Tube-like
flower buds will then peek out from in between the scales,
starting from the base of cone. The petals of the flowers
subsequently unfurl, to release their heady perfume and
the dark coloured stamen resembling a butterfly's antenna,
is then displayed prominently. Unfortunately, the flowers
only lasts a day. Upon successful pollination, an oval-shaped
fruit will form. The fruit turns into a bright orange
colour when ripe and will eventually split open to reveal
seeds encapsulated inside bright, red flesh.
The interesting looking inflorescence of the butterfly
different butterfly gingers have been spotted on sale in local
nurseries. The most commonly seen species, H. coronarium
var. coronarium, produces large, pure white flowers.
Another butterfly ginger, which bears white flowers with an
intense yellow spot on its lip is H. coronarium var.
chrysoleucum. It is not to be confused with two other
similar looking species, namely, H. flavescens (syn.
H. coronarium var. flavescens) and H. flavum.
The two latter species have flowers that have a similar yellow
spot on the lip but their flowers are of a very pale yellow.
There is a variety with peach coloured flowers that is occasionally
available for sale but its identity is not known, which could
well be a hybrid.
The ripe fruit of the butterfly ginger splits open
to reveal the seeds that are covered in a red coloured aril.
the garden, butterfly gingers are best grown in groups. In the
tropics, they are perennials that will provide constant flushes
of fragrant flowers. Butterfly gingers are all terrestrials
and would prefer to be grown in well drained, fertile soil that
is rich in organic matter. Water sufficiently to make the soil
moist and the area where the butterfly ginger is grown should
preferably be mulched to conserve moisture and keep the roots
cool. Fertilise regularly with generous amounts of organic compost
or organic fertiliser, which will help to condition the often
encountered clayey soil we have here locally. After flowering,
the entire spent inflorescence can be cut away. The still green
stem can be left since it can still photosynthetise and provide
food for the plant. Remove old stems when they start to turn
yellow or when the clump appears to be overcrowded.
A happy butterfly ginger should have dark green leaves
that are open.
A sign of underwatering and overexposure to direct
sunlight - curled and yellowing leaves.
general, butterfly gingers appreciate a preferably shady and
not too windy location. Constant air movement reduces air humidity
can cause the plant to dry out quickly. Butterfly gingers should
never be exposed to the much more intense, direct sunshine in
the tropics for prolonged periods. Plants that have been dehydrated
react by curling up their leaves and those that have receiving
too much light will exhibit sickly-looking, yellow leaves. The
leaves of the butterfly gingers can be attacked by grasshoppers
and leaf rolling caterpillars.
of plants can be most easily achieved by division although
seeds are also sometimes available. Lift up overcrowded
clumps and split into sections with at least 3 to 4 shoots.
Leaves may be trimmed away to reduce dehydration of the
plant. Plant each section into a pot of soil and always
take care not to bury the rhizome too deeply as that will
induce rot. If the section is not stable, it may be necessary
to prop it up using a stick. Once roots have developed,
the support can be removed. Until then, it is prudent
to keep the rhizome section in a cool, shady area.
Clumps can be divided to give more plants.
butterfly ginger has been used as a popular ornamental
plant in the garden. Because the flowers are fragrant,
it is not surprising that the flowers have found themselves
being used to make perfumes, using the oil extracted from
them. In tropical Hawaii, the flowers are also threaded
to make leis or perched singly in a similar way like how
Plumeria flowers are worn on the ear. The butterfly
ginger's rhizome has numerous medicinal uses in traditional
medicine for the treatment of tonsilitis, infected nostrils
and fever. The leaves are also used to reduce pain and
swelling in stiff and sore joints.
flower buds are actually edible and can be used like a
vegetable. The flower buds are best picked early in the
morning and stored in the refrigerator until they are
ready to be used. The buds can be tossed in your salad
for a spicy, gingery zest and intriguing, succulent texture.
They can also be added to soups and stir-fried. The buds
can also be infused in hot water, together with your Chinese
tea leaves, add the unique butterfly ginger fragrance
to your tea.
The flower buds of the butterfly ginger can actually be
H., 2001. Hedychium coronarium J. König [Internet] Record
from Proseabase. van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. and Bunyapraphatsara,
N. (Editors). PROSEA (Plant Resources of South-East Asia) Foundation,
Bogor, Indonesia. http://www.proseanet.org. Accessed from Internet:
B. K. 2006. Jiang Hua Zhi Zai Pei Yu Peng Tiao. In: Gardening
Friend. July-August Issue. Known-You Seed Co., Ltd, Taiwan.
pp. 22 - 25. In Traditional Chinese.