What is Shell Ginger?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Long, striped leaves and vibrant, bold flowers are distinctive of the shell ginger plant. Alpinia zerumbet, as the plant is scientifically known, is one of many Chinese rhizomatous perennials that has been cultivated in many other tropical areas of the world. The evergreen garden plants are members of the Zingerberaceae, or ginger, family.

Handful of peat moss, which is good for shell ginger.
Handful of peat moss, which is good for shell ginger.

These garden plants can grow up to 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) in height. There waxy, tubular flowers resemble drooping shells, providing the plant with its namesake. Fragrant shell ginger flowers are showy and dramatic, with pink tips and white exteriors. Bright yellow and red interiors make the flowers very striking. Leaves are irregularly striped and vibrant as well, in multiple shades of green and yellow.

Native to Indonesia, China, and many other parts of Asia, the plants have spread to tropical zones across the planet, including Peru, Brazil, and parts of the United States. The plant thrives in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Florida in particular. Due to its tall height, shell ginger works well as a landscaping plant. The herbaceous perennial also grows well in containers and greenhouses.

As a tropical plant, shell ginger requires plenty of humidity for optimal growing. Partial shade to full sunlight works well with this flower. When grown in colder climates, the plant requires protection against frost, and should be taken indoors during the cooler seasons.

If left outdoors in tropical zones, the flowers grow quickly. Shell ginger should be divided often to prevent rapid self-propagation, if desired. Regular pruning is also recommended, as the plants can become very large, overpowering other nearby plants.

Soil used to propagate these plants should be rich and moist, with continual watering. Organic matter, such as compost or mulch, should be used to provide the plants with optimal nutrition. A mixture of loam, sand, and peat moss may work well. Soil should also be well-drained.

A gingery aroma can be experienced from shell ginger flowers. Coupled with the flowers' aesthetically pleasing appearance, it makes them a favorite gift item. The flowers also work well in cut arrangements and artful displays for special occasions, such as weddings or holiday feasts.

Shell ginger is a very popular plant with several nicknames. The most common moniker of the plant is the pink porcelain lily. It has also been called light galangal, shell flower ginger, da cao kou, butterfly ginger, Kha khom, and xxx shan jiang.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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