What are Gingers?

Chefs and great culinary artists are well aware of ginger, but we gardeners are just beginning to learn about this fantastic group of tropical plants.  There are eight common kinds of gingers available worldwide today, all members of the family Zingiberaceae, commonly known only as “gingers”. These include Alpinias, Costus, Curcumas, Globbas, Hedychiums, Kaempferias, Siphonochilus and Zingibers.  Costus seems recently to have moved into its own family Costaceae, but they are so pretty we will leave them with their cousins for now.

Why are we so proud of our gingers at The Summit?   Of the seven common kinds of gingers above, we have many examples of five of them, with Globbas and Siphonochilus not being a part of our collection as yet.

Edible or Ornamental?

Gingers are either edible or ornamental plants or both.  The plants in these groups are so diverse that they range in size from ground covers to several metres tall, require shade to full sun, and they include those with large attractive flowers or small, discreet blooms.    Ginger is a perennial plant made up of creeping rhizomes, that originated in the tropics.   Gingers may be low-growing groundcovers (Kaempferias) or they may grow to 6 metres high (Torch Gingers).

Edible Gingers

Edible ginger represents only a few of the nearly 1,300 species of plants in the Zingibers and its name is Zingiber officinale.   Other edible gingers we grow at The Summit are Turmeric (Curcuma longa), and Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior) where the unopened flower buds are edible and very flavorful, and they are used in Southeast Asian dishes of curries and stews.

Edible ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior)

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) edible roots

The common edible ginger is grown for its spicy rhizomes used in cooking and medicines.  You will find some in our Oils Ain’t Oils garden, distinguishable by its rather plain thin stems and leaves. Blooms (small green inflorescence with white and maroon flowers) are rare.   After blooming, the green cone does not turn completely red.   It grows about 2 metres tall in medium to full sun.   This extremely versatile root is known for its popularity in Oriental and Indian cooking where it is used fresh to impart a pungent, hot and spicy taste.   Ginger root is a gnarled and knobby root that has a tan skin and a pale yellow-green to ivory flesh, and it can be used in many forms, including grated and ground.

There are numerous health benefits of ginger.   First, the root is ground up and placed into a steam distillation plant such as we have here at The Summit.  The essential oil that results can help to relieve a variety of symptoms and offers relief as an analgesic, astringent and aphrodisiac.   Furthermore, ginger oil works well with sandalwood, lime and vetiver grass oils, all of which we can produce here at The Summit.  Ginger has long been used in the islands of Vanuatu to deflect malaria.    Ginger root is also used in baking, confectionery and certain liquors.    It is the major ingredient in The Summit ginger beer, a product soon to be available to our patrons in The Summit Café.

So to sum up, ginger in one of its many forms is fantastic to give you a boost if you are physically or mentally burnt out or run down.  So watch for our ginger oil products at our Gift Shop and Cafe.

Ornamental Gingers

These are the show ponies of the garden.   Nestled amongst thousands of other plants, our gingers produce a dramatic effect in our tropical landscape.    Our many varieties of ornamental gingers with different shapes, sizes and colours can lend themselves to many different garden situations. They can flower for long periods of time, some even all year round, which is perfect for long lasting cut flowers in a tropical flower arrangement.

Gingers grow perfectly in our tropical climate conditions, much to the envy of our visitors who live in colder places.  I cannot help but envy them their fabulous roses, but then I guess one cannot have everything.   But come to think of it, there are some gingers that will grow in cooler climates, and there are some roses that will grow at The Summit, it all depends on whether we provide the right microclimates for them.  Our gingers thrive in full or part sun depending on the species and prefer well drained soil.   One cannot get better drainage than is found on the slopes of our Escarpment Garden.

Gingers are the queen flowers of the plant world. They are the source of wondrous fragrances and possess exquisitely delicate foliage and flowers. The fragrance of some butterfly gingers (Hedychium) will take your breath away.   The white Hedychium coronarium or White Ginger Lily is in demand to make essential oil from its flowers and this oil is rare and rather expensive.

Some gingers lay dormant during the cooler months and re-emerge when the ground warms up. Some examples are the Crepe Ginger (Costus speciosus), Kampferia  and Curcuma.  The spectacular beehive ginger produces an exceptionally delightful exhibit of orange to red inflorescence during 7 months in the garden. It has been one of the eye catching and spectacular plants that visitors to The Summit  go “oo ha!” as soon as they see it.

Gingers enjoy a special position in the botanical kingdom, and indeed in our gardens, with their elegance in form and texture, exuberant year round color, amazing proportions and in some cases, their rarity. The word ginger conjures up images of an exotic oriental food flavoring.   We at The Summit intend to add to our collection of these stunning plants.  For now, please enjoy some extracts from our gallery– a picture speaks a thousand words about their beauty!

Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet)

Indonesian Wax Ginger (Tapeinochilos ananassae)

Peacock Ginger (Kaempferia pulchra) “Silver Spot”

Beehive Ginger (Zingiber spectabile)

Tahitian Double Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

White Ginger Lily (Hedychium coronarium)

Ginger Lily (Hedychium spicatum var.)

Spiral Ginger, Crepe Ginger (Costus speciosus)

Hidden ginger lily (Curcuma petiolata)