Alpinia purpurata (Red ginger)

Alpinia purpurata Red ginger
Alpinia purpurata
Red ginger

Alpinia purpurata (Red ginger)

This dramatic flower is ideal for contemporary designs.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

1 LINE ‘EM UP. Commonly known as red ginger (although there are both red and pink varieties), Alpinia purpurata (pronounced al-PIN-ee-a pur-pur-AH-tuh) is grown for its unusual linear flower heads (bracts). These tropicals rise from clumps of knobby rhizomes, sometimes reaching 10 feet in height. There are two varieties: ‘Jungle King’ (red) and ‘Jungle Queen’ (pink).

2 ZINGY FAMILY. Red ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which includes about 40 genera of gingers native to tropical Asia and islands of the South, West and Southwest Pacific. A close relative is Alpinia Zerumbet, commonly known as shell ginger, which is similar but has looser, pendulous bracts that are off-white tinged with pink. Another relative, Zingiber officinale (common ginger or true ginger), is the ginger grown for its aromatic rhizomes and used for culinary purposes.

3 A PROSPEROUS ITALIAN. Alpinia was named for Prospero Alpino, an Italian physician and botanist who traveled throughout the Greek islands and Egypt in the late 16th century.

4 ALWAYS ON. Red gingers are available year-round from various growing areas. Most red gingers sold in the United States probably come from Hawaii, but they also are commercially grown in Colombia, Costa Rica and other warm climates.

5 CHOICES, CHOICES. Red gingers must be harvested and chosen at their peak of maturity since they do not develop further once cut. Look for blossoms with high gloss and vivid color; avoid those that are creased or marred. Don’t purchase red gingers too far in advance.

6 CAREFREE AND EASY. Unpack red gingers immediately upon arrival. If the flowers seem dehydrated, submerge them in room-temperature water for 20 minutes. Next, recut the stems, and place them into properly prepared flower food solution. There is no evidence that red gingers benefit from hydration solutions.

7 WARMTH REQUIRED. Red gingers are chill sensitive, so store them at 55 F to 60 F. The blooms will turn a bluish or grayish color if they are held at temperatures lower than 55 F. Red gingers are also geotropic: when stored horizontally or diagonally, the flower tips will bend upward. To prevent this response, store the stems upright.

8 LASTING FRESHNESS. If proper care and handling procedures are followed, red gingers can last up to three weeks in nutrient solution. The long vase life makes them a good choice for commercial designs.

9 DESIGNER HEAVEN. Red gingers’ unusual form and long, leafless stems make these flowers ideal for contemporary designs. Because of stem thickness and bloom size and weight, use the densest floral foam available when designing with gingers in foam, and reinforce it with chicken wire, if possible.

10 THE DOCTOR IS IN. The curative powers of the various gingers rivals their culinary uses. In ancient China, they were regarded as a healing gift from God and were used to cleanse and warm the body. Gingers were used in more than half of all traditional Chinese herbal remedies to treat morning sickness, indigestion, heartburn, motion sickness, pain and more. They also are used as a natural preservative and meat tenderizer.

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.