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Ginger blossom

September 6, 2011

One problem with vernacular names is that they are not exact. Going to Chiang Mai’s Khamtieng flower market I thought I would just pick up ordinary ginger (Zingiber officinale) and plant it at Dokmai Garden. Sure, I asked for the Thai name ‘king’ and I got it swiftly. Well, now my ‘king’ is in blossom, and it is another species: Zingiber ottensii! This has not happened once or twice, but maybe 60 times. You ask for one plant, the dealer or farmer gives you something else. Sometimes they do this because they do not care about being exact, similar is good enough. Sometimes they do it because they do not know much, or because a name in one part of the country refers to one plant, but in another part it refers to a completely different plant. Never identify a plant based on a dictionary, never trust the vendor – use a flora!

Most members of the ginger genus, Zingiber, form their flowers in a separate conelike inflorescence. Zingiber is also characterised by a swelling of the leaf base. Kai Larsen lists 48 species of Zingiber native to Thailand.

The flowers of Z. ottensii can only be admired early in the mornings, as they wilt in the afternoon. Next day there will be a new set of flowers.

At Dokmai Garden we grow this plant in the shade where it makes flowers and leaves. It is native to moist evergreen forests of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its rhizome is purplish and so quite different from true ginger. I therefore propose the English name ‘purple ginger root’.

These are the English names:

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), spice, red and yellow flower on green cone, turning red.

Purple ginger root (Zingiber ottensii), spice, light yellow flower on brownish red cone.

Shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet), shampoo, light yellow flower on green cone, turning red.

Zingiber ottensii

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Allen Todd permalink
    September 6, 2011 3:14 AM

    Always trust a vendor to sell you what he has on hand.

  2. September 6, 2011 8:38 AM

    To be sure to get true Ginger ,Zingiber officinale, would it not be easiest to buy some at the green grocer? Or are there a number of Gingers we use in cooking?

    I heard the suggestion that Kha be planted along the smelly Mae Kha Canal where once the plant may have grown wild or then perhaps it was planted in ancient times. What is theLatin name for Don Kha please and wher can one buy roots to plant without spending a fortune?

    Here is a nice story about the Mae Kha by Andrew Forbes:

    • September 6, 2011 8:46 AM

      That was exactly Ketsanee’s remark! With ‘kha’ do you mean greater galanga or galangal (Alpinia galanga)? If you need small quantities (ten pieces) we are happy to share with you.

      Cheers, Eric

  3. Martin Shim permalink
    September 8, 2011 5:44 AM

    I have it in bloom in my garden, Zingiber ottensii. How do they use it as spice in Thailand?

    • September 8, 2011 9:19 AM

      Ketsanee and her family says they are not used to it. My mistake was to buy it at the flower market. The vendor probably thought I wanted an ornamental rather than a spice. The literature says the root can be used as a spice. As far as I know, there are no toxic gingers and so most of them are edible, although not always palatable.

      Cheers, Eric

  4. Martin Shim permalink
    September 8, 2011 7:30 AM

    Hi Eric,

    I have this small leaf mining beetle in my garden. Metallic black in color, mine both the top and bottom surface of the leaves, creating this ugly dried leaves as a result . The feed on the red Alpinia, torch ginger. They like to congregate inside young ginger leaves that which is unfolding. The size of the beetle is about half of a short grain rice. Do you know of any biological control or chemical is the way?



    • September 8, 2011 9:26 AM

      Dear Martin,

      Does your beetle jump? In any case there are many beetles of the Chrysomelidae family which are notorious pests in vegetable sections. Most miners are Lepidopteran larvae making tunnels under the leaf epidermis, while the beetles eat holes.

      I had one attack on a young Chinese chestnut (Castanea chinensis) and I simply spent time removing beetles by hand. If there is a specific ginger pest, then one way I have tried with success is to cut down all pseudostems of all gingers in one day (your heart bleeds). Thereby you disrupt the reproductive cycle of the insect. Of course you should water and feed your gingers instantly to compensate for the nutrient losses.

      My experience from Dokmai Garden is that although insects make damage, they rarely kill, unlike children and garden workers. The best way to avoid massive attacks is to avoid huge monocultures. A Garden full of many different plants also harbour insect predators.

      • Martin Shim permalink
        September 8, 2011 9:57 AM

        Dear Eric,

        Thanks for your reply . The beetle does sort of fly away or just drop and fly. It’s not the usual flea beetle that we see on vege leaves. But it still could be of the same family. I have photo of it if I may post it on Dokmai FB wall or how shall I tag you.?

        Have tried catching them by hand but it is an endless job. :(((.

        I have a very mixed garden. With all sort of species, no monocultures. I see how I can tag u a photo of my garden.

      • September 8, 2011 2:18 PM

        Dear Martin,

        That really sounds like the Chrysomelid beetles we had on the chestnut. Usually a pest attack comes and goes. Parasitoids and virus seem to affect any insect and so their populations usually crash. In a commercial situation you have no time to wait and can not afford a crop to spoil, but in a home garden I should not worry. Pseudostems could be cut back to force the beetles to move, but woody plants have to face it, like they would in nature. I never tried neem extract nor rotenone (Derris elliptica) on these beetles. If anyone has used these plant extracts against such beetles please let us know.


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