Named after German botanist Andreas Ernst Etlinger, the Etlingera genus has about sixty various species, perhaps more. Most of them are spread across India and Southeast Asia. These perennial plants grow from rhizomatous roots. One of the most notable species in the group is the torch ginger (E. elatior).
The torch ginger is also known by a few others names as well — torch lily, porcelain or stone rose, and wax flower. This particular species of Etlingera is thought to be native to Malaysia and Indonesia. It is also a member of the ginger family, which may be where one of the references to its name came from. Another reference to the name stems from the flower’s resemblance to a flaming torch.
While commonly grown in warm, tropical-like regions as a landscape plant, this Etlingera species may also be grown in the greenhouse. The flowers of these plants have exceptional ornamental value. In fact, the showy blooms are oftentimes used in cut-flower arrangements. The flowers are quite favorable to pollinators as well, like bees and butterflies.
Etlingera elatior blooms year-round in tropical-like regions once it is mature. Flower color may be pink, red, or white. The large, unusual-looking blooms grow on separate stalks too. They have long stems and thick, waxy bracts. The actual flowers appear from the scales that resemble pinecones, located just above the bracts.
Torch ginger also has strap-like, green and red foliage. Those fortunate enough to grow this plant should provide it with plenty of heat, water, and well-draining soil. Etlingera will require lots of space too, growing up to 15 feet (approximately 4.6 meters) or more. Plants are easily propagated through division of their rhizomes. In addition to its ornamental value, torch ginger is also grown for its edible properties.
The young flowering shoots, or flower buds, of Etlingera elatior are a common ingredient in many Malaysian food preparations. Their most popular use is as flavoring for dishes such as rojak and laksa. The buds are chopped and added to these soup and rice noodle dishes to enhance both taste and aroma. It has been used as garnish or in salads as well.
The torch ginger is also believed to have been utilized for medicinal purposes. The leaves and buds of the species is said to have antifungal and antibacterial properties. As with many types of ginger, tea can be made to help in the treatment of congestion, coughs, and colds. The flower essences are also used to promote physical and mental well-being.