Etlingera elatior (Torch Ginger, Red Ginger Lily)

Native to Indonesia and Thailand, Torch Ginger have spectacular inflorescences. Either a vibrant red, pink, or white, the flowers stand out easily among the herbaceous pseudostems. Various parts of these plants have been used as sources of food or medicine, typically in Southeastern Asia. Despite their usefullness, they are invasive in many tropical areas of the world for their fast-spreading rhizomes and ability to form dense thickets underneath tropical canopies.

Etlingera elatior (Torch ginger, Red ginger lily) [sometimes Nicolaia elatior]
Deciduous: no
Hardiness Zones: 9-11
Height: up to 6 meters (20 feet) tall
Diameter: less than 2 meters (7 feet) in diameter at maximum
Growth Rate: fast
Age: perennial
Root System: Young plants (around 8 weeks old) may have roots up to 4 centimeters (1.5 inches) deep. The oil from the roots is sometimes used for medicinal purposes.
Family: Zingerberaceae
Subspecies: Red Torch Ginger, Pink Torch Ginger, Tulip Torch, “Thai Queen” (white flowers), “Yamamoto” (pink-white flowers)

Tolerates: drought (moderate once established)
Problems (major): invasive in certain tropical areas
Problems (minor): none researched
Poisonous: no

Soil requirements: requires nutrient rich, neutral to acidic (pH 5.5-7.5), well-drained soils (balanced fertilizers, or those with extra potassium, improve growth)
Air requirements: higher humidity promotes growth
Watering requirement: moderate to high
Sun requirement: full sun or part-shade (able to grow below tropical canopies)

Leaf shape: lanceolate, hairless
Leaf size: up to 81 centimeters (32 inches) long by 18 centimeters (7 inches) wide
Stem: The pseudostems are made up of leaf sheaths; true stems are short and replaced by pseudostems.
Flowering structure: The inflorescence has bright red bracts (modified leaves); the labellum have yellow or white margins, ovate shaped. The inflorescences are somewhat pine-cone shaped and stand atop stems reaching 1.5 meters (5 feet) in height. Some cultivars have pink or white inflorescences instead of red.
Flowering frequency: spring and summer after one full year of growth
Fruits: colored green to red with black seeds
Bulb/Corm: rhizomes

Notable characteristics:
The maturing flower buds are edible and are sometimes used in various dishes in Southeastern Asia. The entire plant has been used in either cuisine or for medicinal purposes in some parts of the world. These may spread by rhizomes. Torch ginger are invasive in China, Hawaii, and in some other tropical areas. The minimum temperature for survival is 10 degrees Celsius, and the maximum temperature for survival is 35 degrees Celsius. Considered a “geophyte” for being herbaceous (non-woody) and having subterranean energy storage organs, including bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. The flowers are insect and bird pollinated
and dispersed.

The unopened flower buds are sometimes used as food. The oil from the roots, and most of the plant in general, is used for some medicinal purpose.

Sources used:



An inflorescence sitting upon a red inflorescence

An opened inflorescence at the Missouri Botanical Garden
The green pseudostems for the foliage and the red stems for the flowering structures at Mobot
An inflorescence entering the fruiting stage of development at Mobot

All of the images provided were taken by me in June 2014. They may be used for informational/educational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.


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