Native gingers for the garden

Native gingers for the garden

Native gingers belong to the genus Alpinia and are perennial herbs. They are members of the Zingiberaceae family of plants which have many members that are of economic significance in the production of spices such as ginger, turmeric and cardamom. This family is characterised by their fleshy underground rhizomes, from which shoots and roots emerge and which are responsible for their spreading growth. The rhizome stores water making the plant quite hardy and able to grow new shoots after surface damage. The shoots form stems bearing fragrant flowers (and later fruit) and shiny leaves. More than 230 species of Alpinia occur in tropical and subtropical climates of Asia and the Pacific. All prefer a well-drained soil in filtered light to full shade and as such make great house plants or surrounding a water feature. The alluring colours of their flowers, as well as their attraction to bees and butterflies, ensure their abiding demand as ornamental garden plants.

Alpinia caerula is an understory plant of the rainforests along the border of NSW and Queensland. Each plant produces multiple stems to 2.5m high which bear broad, sword-shaped leaves that fade, front to back, from glossy to pale green, and fragrant white flowers that occur throughout the year which are followed by blue berries. The papery blue berry coating surrounds a white, slightly acidic pulp around the seeds. All parts of the plant have a ginger flavour, the intensity of which varies from plant to plant. Indigenous peoples ate the pulp around the seeds and young rhizomes. They wrapped food for cooking in the leaves. Although the older rhizomes are too fibrous to eat, they can be dried and ground up to include in recipes.

Another native ginger, found on the Sunshine Coast, is the wavy-leafed Alpinia arundelliana. It is similar to A.caerula but is more compact, growing to 1m high, with narrower leaves that have wavy margins, and pink flowers. The rhizomes, stems, leaves and fruit pulp are all edible and the leaves are a great meat tenderiser or for wrapping fish for steaming.

Indigenous to NE Queensland, the narrow-leaf ginger (Alpinia modesta) is another compact species that grows to 1m. The flowers, that form in summer, are white with striking pink lines. Although cassowaries have been observed eating the fruit, its edibility status has not been confirmed.

Alpinia caerulea, Native Ginger
Alpinia caerulea. Photograph by Neil Murphy.
Alpinia arundelliana, Native Ginger
Alpinia arundelliana. Photograph by Neil Murphy.
Alpinia arundelliana, Native Ginger
Alpinia arundelliana. Photograph by Neil Murphy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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