Native to tropical Asia, these small, shade-loving plants grow outdoors only in humid, very warm climates. Flowers (sometimes fragrant) resemble small orchids or African violets (Saintpaulia) but have just three petals, one of which is a deeply lobed lip. Foliage is usually more decorative than the flowers; leaves of many species have iridescent veining and feathery zoning, giving them the look of a peacock's tail. Leaves of most species lie horizontally, making a low (1- to 6-in.-tall), strikingly textured ground cover during the growing season. In winter, foliage dies back and plant becomes dormant. Reduce watering in fall; stop watering altogether in winter; resume watering in spring. Plants grow easily in moist soil with lots of organic matter. Some spread by rhizomes. Tuberous types can be divided.
In the Upper, Middle, and Lower South, grow in containers and overwinter indoors. Keep nighttime temperature above 60F. During growing season, air and soil must be moist and daytime temperatures high; plants will thrive in temperatures over 90F.
K. galanga. Rounded, shiny, green leaves to 6 in. long. Fragrant white flowers with purple spots on lip bloom in spikes of up to 12 in. Plant istuberous and spreads to about 1 ft. wide.
K. gilbertii. VARIEGATED PEACOCK GINGER. Narrow, pointed, bright green leaves, 47 in. long and 12 in. wide, with white margins and stripes, gray undersides. White flowers with violet lip bloom from late spring into summer. Reaches 9 in. wide and spreads by rhizomes.
K. pulchra. PEACOCK GINGER. Broad, oval leaves to 7 in. long are dark green and bronze, marked with silvery veining; undersides are pale green. Lilac flowers with a white eye bloom from summer to early fall. Plant grows about 1 ft. wide, spreading by rhizomes. K. p. mansonii has iridescent leaves that are deeply veined, nearly pleated looking; it is about 2 in. taller than the species and blooms continuously from spring to fall. 'Silver Spot' and 'Bronze' produce variegated foliage.
K. roscoeana. PEACOCK LILY. Similar to K. pulchra, but leaf undersides are reddish and flowers are white. Spreads by rhizomes.
K. rotunda. ASIAN CROCUS. Narrow leaves to 1 ft. long are carried erect, making this a much taller plant than other species. Leaves are purplish beneath and show a featherlike pattern of dark and pale green on top surface. Fragrant white flowers with purple lip bloom before leaves appear. Tuberous plant to 112 ft. wide. 'Raven' has more pronounced coloration on the upper sides of leaves. 'Silver Diamonds' is a beauty.