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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Shell Ginger Variegated

By Staff | Apr 5, 2012

First impression: Exotic, unique, orchid-like flowers of vibrant yellows, pinks, and magenta emerging from teardrop buds. These pendant draped buds are soft white and resemble coiled sea shells. The long striped yellow and green leaves remind me of banana stalks. These leaves are numerous and embrace a tall main stem. All new growth emerges from the base; and the flowers appear from the top of the stems. Yipes, stripes, any conchologist would take a second look! You can collect all many memories you desire of our sea shells in bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Variegated Shell Ginger is an evergreen herb that hails from Southeast Asia and India. It is a garden favorite because of its striped leaves and iconic tropical flowers. Blooming or non blooming, this beautiful plant is a must for cut gardens. All over the world, florist love to utilize our star in really exotic arrangements. In the garden our plant is a naturally shaped shrub with banana shaped leaves and lovely draping flowers peeking thru. Shell ginger can be non-variegated with dark green leaves or variegated with yellow and green striped leaves. The flowers are the same on both varieties. Draping, pendulous white creamy shells with pink colored edges are the flower buds. Oh my, when you see the flowers peeking thru these buds, take a deep breath. Their beauty is staggering with orchid like markings and ruffles in yellow, crimson, and magenta. The flowers appearing at the ends of the stems are a characteristic that identifies the Alpinia genus from most other gingers. In our garden we have large clumps as wide as 12 feet and as tall as 10 feet. Maximum height for this fast grower is 6-12 feet tall, which makes it perfect for a screen or private area. You may plant in partial sun or full shade, and well drained soil. It is a non invasive exotic with little or no pests or diseases. New growth is underneath from rhizomes, so you can get large areas amassing. Easy to care for, everything connects at the base in a clumping manner, which can grow wider or be divided by a shovel and a little muscle. The most common question I receive about our star is why isn’t mine blooming? Here are some considerations: Should be planted in partial to shady areas. Loves mulch and leaves and is not cold tolerant. It takes the second year on each stalk to bloom. We all know that many plants in the ginger family have culinary or medicinal uses. The ground leaves of shell ginger in other countries are sold as homeopathic remedies. Oodles of species are used in perfumery, oils, and aromatics. Interesting trivia: The fresh ginger roots that you and my husband uses for cooking, is from Chinese Ginger or Zingiber officinale.

Pros: Great dramatic shrub – Does well in wet areas – Likes shade Can be divided and planted other places or share with neighbors Non invasive Little or no pests – May have shell collectors in your garden – Salt tolerance Will fill in unsightly areas with little effort Blooms or leaves great for vases!

Cons: Needs to be separated periodically Can get dead foliage/ trim away Need to trim away spent blooms stalks Needs water regularly May grow weary of explaining its not the ginger for cooking Not cold tolerant Non native.

Conclusion: We grow sea shells all in a garden row. You can practice your Sanibel stoop, admiring our land loving shell wanna be’s. No need to worry, they won’t wash away in our tropical eye catching garden.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!