Alpinia coccinea

Plants of the ginger family are a group that have been greatly underrated by nuserymen to date. Only a few species are grown in gardens, such as members of the genus Roscoea. In collections of thermophil-ous plants (thriving in hot conditions) one is quite likely to come across members of the genus Kaemp-feria or Costus, always represented, however, by only one or two species. And yet these plants generally do well even in conditions that are far from optimal; they produce attractive flowers (which are often fragrant) and have very decorative foliage.

The species from south-east Asia is a large plant suitable for a large conservatory or sun lounge, for it grows to a height of about 120 cm (33/4 ft). The flowers are inconspicuous, concealed in the axils of large, bright red bracts. The leaves, up to 50 cm (20 in) long, are a vivid deep green. Unfortunately, this magnificent plant is not found in European nurseries to date; it is more likely to be encountered in tropical and subtropical parks. More frequently found in European collections are A. calcarata, generally less than 1 m (3 ft) high with large white flowers marked pink and violet; and A. x sanderae, 80 cm (32 in) at the most, with white variegated leaves.

The genus Costus includes some splendid species. Most, however, flower only briefly, but they are plants of tropical forest undergrowth and tolerate deep shade. Particularly noteworthy in this respect is C. igneus from Brazil, an attractive plant about 50 cm (20 in) high which grows in shade that other species would hardly tolerate. At the same time it is tolerant of a dry, smoky and dusty atmosphere which makes it ideal for providing a bit of greenery even in the least suitable of places. Well-known representatives of the ginger family are members of the genus Hedychium, which likewise are found in cultivation only very occasionally — generally H. gardnerianum. Much prettier, however, is H. coronariwn from the Himalayas with large, snow-white and very fragrant flowers. This species requires a permanently moist medium and ample light; it is excellent for a large indoor paludarium.

Plants of the ginger family should be grown in a mixture of compost, leaf mould and peat; most species require a definite dormant period in winter. Propagation is by cutting up the stout rhizomes or, quite readily, by means of seed.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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