Growing gingers is a snap. Plants thrive in Southern heat and humidity, spreading slowly but widely by rhizomes. Most folks' knowledge of this genus begins and ends with one species, Z. officinale, the source of culinary gingerbut there are also dozens of highly ornamental species, of which a small sampling is presented here.
Z. citriodorum 'Chiang Mai Princess'. Selection of a species from Thailand. To 34 ft. tall, with glossy, green leaves. Large (8-in.) flowering cone with sharp-pointed bracts starts out dark green, turns blood-red. Blooms appear 1112 ft. above the ground. Sweet citrus fragrance. Good cut flower.
Z. malaysianum. BLACK GINGER, MIDNIGHT GINGER. From Malaysia. To 23 ft. high. Grown primarily for dark purplish brown foliage, borne on dark stems. Ground-level flowers open yellow, then age to pink.
Z. mioga. MIOGA GINGER. Native to China. To 2 ft. high, with dark green leaves. Small yellow flowers with white edges are borne at ground level. Commonly cultivated in Japan for edible shoots in spring, flower buds in summer or fall. In hot climates, goes dormant in summer. Highly attractive foliage of 'Dancing Crane' is green, with white streaks reminiscent of lightning bolts running vertically through each leaf. This selection spreads slowly and is noninvasive; it looks great massed in a shade garden.
Z. niveum 'Milky Way'. Selection of a species from Thailand. Grows 2123 ft. high, with light green foliage. The ground-level, 4- to 6-in. flowering cones are white to pale pink, with yellow flowers.
Z. officinale. COMMON GINGER. Native to Southeast Asia. This is the ginger used in cooking. Stems 24 ft. tall, with narrow, glossy, bright green leaves to 1 ft. long. Summer flowers (rarely seen) are yellowish green, with purple lip marked yellow; not especially showy. Buy roots (fresh, not dried) at the grocery store in early spring; cut into 1- to 2-in.-long sections with well-developed growth buds. Let cut ends dry before planting. Allow several months for roots to reach some size, then harvest at any time.
Z. rubens. BENGAL GINGER. From India. To 4 ft. tall. Green foliage. Bright red flowering cones about 112 in. across bloom at ground level or even partially below the soil. Each scale of the cone produces a single inch-wide red flower with a cream lip marked in red; blossoms emerge one after the other, over the course of several weeks.
Z. spectabile. BEEHIVE GINGER. From Malaysia. To 6 ft. tall. Deep green, slender-pointed leaves to 1112 ft. long, with long, slender, pointed tips. Stem about 3 ft. tall bears a showy, foot-long inflorescence; overlapping bracts are yellow, aging to scarlet, and flowers are yellowish with black tips. Good cut flower.
Z. zerumbet. PINE CONE GINGER, SHAMPOO GINGER. Native to India and Malaysia. To 6 ft. tall. Dark green leaves to 1 ft. long and 3 in. wide (broader than those of Z. officinale). Inflorescence is a 3- to 5-in. green cone that appears on a separate, short stalk in late summer, then turns brilliant red for 2 to 3 weeks. Small yellow flowers open between the bracts. 'Darcyi' has cream-striped leaves. Good cut flower.
Plant in rich, moist, well-drained soil, placing rhizomes just below the soil surface. Propagate by division in early spring. Plants go dormant in winter, and rhizomes may rot in cold, wet soil. You can grow gingers in pots and move them to shelter in winter; feed once a month during active growth with a general-purpose liquid fertilizer.