Butterfly ginger: fragrance for fall
BY RUSSELL STUDEBAKER In Our Gardens
Saturday, September 01, 2012
9/01/12 at 5:08 AM
One of the delights of late summer is the fragrance and the snowy white flowers of the butterfly ginger. Native to India, it is a common and favorite plant in many of our Southern gardens.
Its botanical name is hedychium coronarium. The genus name means "sweet snow," and the species name pertains to garlands.
The common name butterfly ginger tells the appearance of the four petals like a butterfly resting with open wings. The other common names are butterfly lily, ginger lily and garland lily.
The plant is a true ginger and some say that it is edible, but it is not the ginger that is used for cooking.
The pure white flowers with yellow centers are 2 to 3 inches wide and are produced in racemes on the terminal ends of 5-foot stems. A few flowers open each day from a pine cone-like bud.
And in the garden, you can smell the robust and intense gardenia-like fragrance long before you see the plant. The flowers appear in summer, and new stems may continue flowering until frost. The flowering stems may be used as cut flowers.
Coming from India, you would expect this plant to have a tropical look, and it does with long and dark green strap-like foliage that comes on stems from the large perennial rhizomes. I have grown several of the hardy gingers in my garden, and this one has been always successful in flowering. There seems to be no major pest for this ginger.
Grow this ginger in morning sun or light shade. Mine seems to like a light shady site best. It wants a moist soil, and it tolerates poor drainage. In fact, it is very happy along pond edges. After a few years, the clumps can be lifted and thinned in the spring every three to four years, which will improve flowering.
Plant the new reddish-brown rhizomes in the spring, and only a few inches deep and add a good mulch in autumn. It can flower the first year from planting, and it responds very favorably to feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro.
Use this ginger in the landscape for a tropical effect, or near walks, paths and doorways where the fragrance can really be appreciated. Or use it in groups near water.
A source for these is Stringer Nursery, which has them only in the spring with the water plants. Mail order sources include Niche Gardens, Chapel Hill, N.C. (919.967.0078, nichegardens.com) and Woodlanders, Aiken, S.C. (803.648.7522, woodlanders.net), which only ships from October through March.
This is one tropical plant that is worth its space with its good looking foliage, its pristine white flowers and copious fragrance.
Russell Studebaker is a professional horticulturist and garden writer in Tulsa and can be reached at email@example.com.
The winter-hardy butterfly ginger has intense gardenia fragrance. RUSSELL STUDEBAKER /Courtesy