By Ralph E. Mitchell
Variegation in any plant catches the eye, but for some reason the color of a yellow and green variegated ginger is, to me, the epidemy of tropical splendor. I bought a small variegated ginger specimen a year ago to mix up the solid green color in a partly-shaded border planting. The color pattern of green and yellow stripes brightens up a sea of green and shows off well in the part-shade environment. This variegated ginger is a common cultivar of Alpinia zerumbet which was originally a pure green plant from India. As with all variegated plants, it is less “aggressive” and easier to keep within bounds than its original all-green predecessor. Easy-to-grow and readily available at garden centers, is it time to try the variegated shell ginger?
The variegated ginger is also called the shell ginger due to its flowers which resemble sea shells to some observers. The flowers are white with pink in color and arranged in drooping clusters. These flowers are fragrant and complement the dazzling foliage. The flowers will develop on the oldest growth, so if a freeze or frost hits, blooms may be intermittent. This ginger is hardy for our area, and even if we get a damaging freeze, the rhizomes (specialized underground stems) will survive and re-sprout in the spring. The variegated ginger is an excellent plant for borders, in mass plantings, or as a single specimen in a container. Plant it where people pass by for the best effect. I find that variegated ginger does best with some light shade during the hottest part of the day. The soil should be well-drained, but rich in organic matter to hold moisture. This plant will benefit from supplemental irrigation when needed as it is not drought tolerant. This is why I find a shaded area is best as it will require less irrigation. As each plant will grow at least five feet wide and over four feet tall, space the initial plants about three feet apart. Clumps will develop over time and will need to be divided. Division of these clumps can occur at any time of year by simply tearing apart the old plants by hand into smaller portions of rhizomes. Plant the new divisions at the same depth in the new site.
It is likely that the variegated gingers available at garden centers are not labeled cultivars, but they are available. For instance, for smaller spaces there is ‘Variegata Dwarf’. As its name implies, this plant only grows one-foot tall, but has all of the beautiful coloration of its larger relative. An additional different appearance can be found in ‘Variegate Chinese Beauty’ which combines light and dark green marbling and/or flecks of yellowish green in the foliage. This cultivar can grow to eight feet tall, so plan ahead. A couple of other variegated gingers you might find are Alpinia formosana or pinstripe ginger displaying green leaves with parallel white stripes, and striped narrow leaf ginger (Alpinia vitta) with dark to sage green leaves with cream or white stripes.
The variegated ginger is a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ noted plant worth your while and attention. For more information on all types of ornamental gingers suitable for growing in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf .
Gilman, E. F. (2014) Alpinia zerumbet. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
McLaughlin, J. (2006) A Word About Gardening – Gingers: Attractive Foliage and Stunning Flowers for a Shady Miami Garden. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Miami-Dade
Skinner, D. (2004) Alpinia zerumbet. Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.