Visitors to Dokmai Garden may have seen a tall (2 m) ginger with large fabulous flowers:
That is the orchid ginger or Alpinia mutica, Zingiberaceae (here seen to the left). It resembles the shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet, seen to the right) but the orchid ginger has purely white ‘petals’ (corolla lobes) while those of the shell ginger blushes. The orchid ginger has a broader and almost 3-lobed ‘lip’ (labellum) while the lip of the shell ginger is more cylindrical.
The orchid ginger is native to the wetlands of southern Thailand and Malaysia, but with irrigation it can grow in full sun even in Chiang Mai.
The firm, spherical and slightly hairy fruits of the orchid ginger turn tomato red upon maturation. The thick rind is edible, with a long aftertaste of rosemary. Something for your jungle salad?
Text & Photo: Eric Danell