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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hardy Gingers: Late Risers of the Plant World

Who would have thought that it would take until August for the last of the hardy gingers to emerge from dormancy?  Cold hardy gingers are members of the true ginger family, Zingerberaceae, and overwinter as dormant rhizomes when grown in temperate climates like ours.  They can have a very long dormant period.  What follows is the timeline we have experienced this year in our Portland, Oregon area garden.

Dormant rhizome of Hedychium gardnerianum
Roscoeas were the first gingers to emerge.  I count on them to appear from mid-May to early June each year.  I wrote about these tough and reliable perennials and their orchid-like flowers in an earlier blog post.  The several species we grow will continue to flower in our garden until fall. 

Hardy Shade Ginger, Cautleya species
The Hardy Shade Ginger, Cautleya, emerged next, in June and July. We have been impressed with the striking green and red foliage and golden flowers with red bracts.  Our plants don’t seem to be one of the three known species and we suspect they could be of hybrid origin.  Whatever their identity, Cautleya want a cool, moist spot in the woodland garden and are winter hardy in well-drained soil.

Red Butterfly Ginger, Hedychium greenii
Hedychium species including Red Butterfly Ginger, H. greenii and Garland Flower, H. coronarium, began emerging in late July.  They are growing very fast and have beautiful foliage but have yet to flower.  So far we have seen only a few growth tips of the Garland Flower, Hedychium gardnerianum.  We think it is only a matter of time before they emerge because the rhizomes remain firm and have good growth tips.  All of these Hedychiums grow rapidly to several feet in height in a single season and are lovers of bright, dappled light and moist, rich soil. 

Curcuma 'White Wonder'
And finally in mid-August, the Curcuma ‘White Wonder’ and Globba schombergkii, Golden Dancing Girls, have emerged.  Who knew dancing girls could be so shy?

It remains to be seen if these later emerging gingers will flower this season.  If fall arrives too soon, the cold weather can cause the blooms to fail.  Even without their spectacular flowers, the vertical pseudostems rising out of the ground and large linear leaves create an interesting tropical look in containers or the open garden.

Hardy Gingers with Elephant Ears
Gardeners in temperate climates must practice patience to grow hardy gingers, the late risers of the plant world.  If you grow them in garden beds, be sure to clearly mark their location so you don’t dig them up earlier in the season, as I have, trying to find an empty spot for a new plant.   The good news is that the dormant rhizome is easy to replant if you do!

Hardy ginger plants are available now at the nursery.  They will be available in our mail order catalog when dormant.

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