White butterfly ginger plant

Hedychium Ginger Lily Info: Tips On Caring For Butterfly Ginger Lilies

Hedychium are native to tropical Asia. They are a group of astounding floral forms and plant types with minimum hardiness. Hedychium are often called butterfly ginger lily or garland lily. Each species has a unique floral shape but characteristic “canna-like” large foliage. Hedychium originate in areas where monsoons are common and heavy, moist, warm tropical air is the norm. Try to mimic their native growing conditions for the healthiest Hedychium plants.

Hedychium Ginger Lily Info

Tropical plants in the garden or in containers bring to mind snowy white beaches, dense, lush rainforests and exotic sights and scents. Hedychium is a tropical plant that is hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 8 to 11. For northern gardeners, butterfly ginger plants can be grown in containers and brought indoors for the cool seasons. This is a true ginger in the Zingerberaceae family, but the rhizomes are not the source of the culinary spice, ginger.

The butterfly ginger lily is a half hardy perennial, flowering plant. The blooms are strongly scented and quite intoxicating. The plants are part of the marginal rainforest community in tropical Asia. As such, providing partial shade and organic rich, moist soil is key to growing Hedychium ginger lilies.

Several species are available for the home gardener. They produce spikes of flowers in hues of red, white, gold, and orange. The flower sizes vary among the species but each has a deep spicy scent. Flower spikes may be up to 6 feet tall and each flower lasts for only one day. The foliage may get 4 to 5 feet tall and has a wide, sword-like form. Foliage will persist until a cold snap kills it to the ground.

An important bit of Hedychium ginger lily info is that the plant should not be grown in Brazil, New Zealand, or Hawaii. It is an invasive species in these areas and has naturalized in some regions.

Growing Hedychium Ginger Lilies

Hedychium plants thrive in partial shade/sun in soil which has excellent drainage but remains moist. The rhizomes should not be in boggy soil, but the plant requires consistent water.

You can plant the rhizomes for quicker blooms or sow seed indoors and transplant outside. These seedlings will not bloom the first year. Seeds for plants started outside in warm climates should be planted in autumn, 18 to 36 inches apart and covered with 1/4 inch of soil.

Thin the seedlings, if necessary, in spring. Young butterfly ginger plants will benefit from a good flowering plant food in spring.

Caring for Butterfly Ginger Lilies

Hedychium needs even moisture for best performance. When the flowers are all spent, cut off the stem to allow the plant’s energy to direct towards the rhizomes. Keep the foliage well tended until it dies back, as it will keep collecting solar energy to store for the next season’s bloom.

In spring, divide the rhizomes of plants, ensuring that each has a growth node and roots before planting them separately for a new batch of tropical flowers.

In cold climates, dig up the rhizomes in late summer to early fall, brush off the soil and store them in peat moss inside paper bags where temperatures are cool but not freezing and air is dry. Replant in early spring in containers or prepared soil and get ready to enjoy one of the most heady floral displays you can find outside of a tropical region.

The most common names for Hedychium coronarium may be White garland lily or white ginger lily but the plant is nothing close to a lily.

In fact, it comes from the ginger family Zingiberaceae.

The scientific name (given by J. König), specifically the genus name comes from Greek words, hedys and chion, which mean sweet and snow respectively.

This is a description or reference to the fragrant white flowers the species produces in abundance.

This flowering plant genus is native to Eastern Himalayas and has a distribution on other regions in Southern China, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.

It is also found in Europe and the United States along with some regions in North America.

The specific epithet means “pertaining to garlands” as it often used to make floral garlands in Japan and Hawaii, where the plant is synonymously known as awapuhi-ke’oke’o.

Other common names for Hedychium include:

  • White ginger
  • Butterfly ginger lily
  • Butterfly lily
  • Mariposa

… and many more.

Like Hedychium gardneranum (Kahili ginger) the plant is known for its fragrant flowers; grown for ornamental and medicinal purposes in the native lands.

How Do You Grow Hedychium Coronarium?

Size & Growth

Hedychium coronarium can grow approximately 5’’ feet high and have a 5’ foot spread. The individual stems grow upright at a fast rate and start covering the area around it.

The foliage consists of large, lance-shaped leaves, around 24” inches long and 5” inched wide. The leaves are medium to bright green in color.

Flowering and Fragrance

The garland flower puts on a beautiful display of showy, fragrant white blooms, borne on elliptical racemes. Each Hedychium inflorescence is about 4” – 8” inches long and blooms from late summer to early spring.

The flowers are sweetly fragrant and are often used to make perfumes. The petals make up an intricate shape similar to the shape of a butterfly.

Hence, various common names have the word butterfly in them.

Light & Temperature

These flowering ginger lilies are winter hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10.

They prefer hot and humid summers and subtropical climates over cooler climes. They need to be overwintered indoors to prevent root damage.

As for light, the white garland lily thrives in full sun but will tolerate part shade.

Watering and Feeding

The garland flower has medium to wet water needs, meaning they need to be watered frequently in hot and dry summers. Don’t let the soil dry out completely as it can cause damage to the plant.

These plants crave nutrition and organic matter, so make sure to supplement your soil during the growing season if it’s not organically rich. Feed the plants with organic compost or organic fertilizer as needed.

If growing in containers place the ginger plant type near a water garden or pond periphery for extra humidity.

Soil & Transplanting

Besides having good moisture retention, the soil should also be organically rich, moist, and well-drained. The soil shouldn’t be too alkaline. The pH should be near neutral or slightly acidic.

As for transplanting, Hedychium coronarium plants respond well to being moved. Divide the new shoots and plant them in the ground in permanent locations in shaded locations.

Grooming and Maintenance

When it comes to pruning, the plant has no needs requiring compulsory cutting.

However, you have to be careful about winters. Overwinter coronarium indoors in a dry, frost-free location.

Be careful about root rot, keeping the soil well-drained. Otherwise, the Hedychium is pretty low-maintenance in the garden.

NOTE: The Heliconia plant grows much like Hedychium gingers. And don’t forget the Curcuma plant, Zingiber officinale or Zingiber Zerumbet.

How to Propagate White Ginger Lily

The white butterfly ginger is propagated from seeds and by dividing rhizomes.

  • Sow the seeds as soon as they are ripe in a partially shaded location, favorably inside a nursery.
  • Germinate at 64° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C) until the seedlings are big enough to be handled and moved.
  • Division is done by gently digging up clumps from the root and dividing the tubers or rhizomes with a knife or spade.
  • Make sure each section has a growing shoot and then plant in a permanent position or in containers.

White Ginger Lily Pest or Diseases

Hedychium coronarium j. Koenig isn’t affected by many serious pest and disease problems.

Common problems such as aphids, red spider mites, scale, and root rot are both preventable and treatable.

Learn more about our FAVORITE natural pest control for gardens.

Invasive Species

Outside its native range, it may be an invasive species. It grows rapidly in streams, shallow water systems, bogs, and waterlogged areas.

The underground rhizomes reproduce rapidly, becoming hard to control.

It is classed invasive in Rio di Janeiro, South Africa, and wet and mesic areas on the Hawaiian island, Maui.

In fact, the propagation of the invasive plant is prohibited in New Caledonia.

Hedychium Coronarium White Butterfly Lily Uses

The showy, Hedychium coronarium white ginger inflorescences look great planted in containers or in landscape garden borders.

Since the flowers attract butterflies, ginger plants are used in the garden to attract pollinators.

The perennial Hedychium coronarium is the national flower of Cuba, where it is known as mariposa for its shape.

Women used the flowers to adorn themselves during celebratory occasions back in the Spanish colonial times.

In times of war, the shape of the flower came in handy for carrying secret messages.

The intricate structure of the flowers allowed women to work for the independence cause.

In China, the plant is cultivated for both ornamental and medicinal uses.

During the slavery era in Brazil, African slaves brought the plant to the country and used the leaves as mattresses.

Currently, the blooms are used as garland flowers in Hawaii and Japan.

They are also used to extract a fragrant essential oil to add to perfumes.

Hedychium coronarium
Family: Zingiberaceae
White Ginger, Butterfly Ginger Lily
Origin: India, Indonesia

Hedychium coronarium is a top selling ginger and the most fragrant of all. In the summer and fall it bears fragrant flowers that resemble butterflies, thus the common name, Butterfly Ginger. It is also been said to attract butterflies. It is popular in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands were it is used in leis or singly worn in the hair or behind the ear. It also makes a good cut flower great for scenting the home. It is a tough plant, a light freeze will kill it to the ground, but it will come back full force in the spring. Hedychium coronarium need light shade and a soil that is high in organic matter. The plants should stay wet at all times, the pots may even be immersed up to the crown in water. Fertilize weekly with a balanced fertilizer. The plants are very robust and quickly grow out of the containers. They need to be divided yearly. Remove old stems after flowers have faded to promote new growth. Hedychium coronarium is propagated by division in late winter- early spring. A frequent ginger in the house gardens of the Dai people along the Mekong river, it is used in local medicine to treat cold, headache, arthritis, and injuries. Sometimes this plant is called Alpinia alba which is incorrect name.

Similar plants:

  • Hedychium ‘Elizabeth’ (Elizabeth Ginger Lily)
  • Hedychium coccineum (Himalayan Ginger Lily, Orange Bottlebrush Ginger, Red Butterfly Ginger )
  • Hedychium flavum (Yellow Butterfly Ginger, Nardo Ginger Lily)
  • Hedychium gardnerianum (Indian Ginger, Kahili Ginger, Kahila garland-lily)
  • Hedychium longicornutum (Perched Gingerwort)
  • Hedychium sp. (Ginger Lily)
  • Hedychium stenopetalum (Slenderpetal Ginger)

Hawaiian ginger plant

Hawaiian white ginger (Hedychium coronarium), or “awapuhi ke’oke’o” in Hawaiian, is a native plant of India and was exported in the 19th century to the Hawaiian Islands for its ornamental uses. It soon became naturalized throughout Hawaii and is sometimes even considered an invasive weed. This perennial herb can grow 6 feet in height with simple, elliptical-shaped leaves and fragrant, large and showy snow white flowers. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 22 and blooms in midsummer to late fall.

Plant Hawaiian ginger root-deep in tropical potting soil.

Allow new Hawaiian ginger plants to settle and mature in soil that’s kept moist, and with partial sun/shade exposure.

Protect Hawaiian ginger plants from temperatures that exceed 85 degrees and/or fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilize mature Hawaiian ginger plants at 90-day intervals and regularly prune faded blooms to encourage new growth.

Remove any yellow leaves and old stems after the blooms have faded to promote new growth. This vigorous grower will replace lost and pruned foliage with new shoots. Hawaiian white ginger quickly grows out of containers and might need to be divided yearly. This plant becomes dormant during the winter and returns in the spring.

Kahili ginger in bloom.

With fragrant towers of flowers and bold foliage, kahili ginger, Hedychium gardnerianum, is a dramatic tropical plant. Native to moist tropical forests of the eastern Himalayas in northern India, Nepal and Bhutan, this plant in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) is the most widely cultivated of all species of the genus Hedychium (pronounced “heh-DIK-ee-um”), and is a popular landscape ornamental throughout the world in tropical and subtropical area. It has naturalized in other areas, including the Caribbean and Hawaii, and is considered an invasive species in some parts of the world. As a tropical or subtropical plant (zones 8-11; the roots will survive light, infrequent frost, but the leaves will not) kahili ginger must be grown as a seasonal or indoor plant in the upper Midwest. It cannot survive our harsh winters, so must be grown as a container plant. This plant has many common names, including ginger lily, yellow ginger lily, kahili garland lily, kahili ginger, and kahili ginger lily.

Kahili ginger produces tall stems with broad, widely-spaced alternate leaves.

Kahili ginger is a large herbaceous plant with rapid vegetative growth. The annual, upright pseudostems arise from thick, perennial rhizomes. In the ground it can grow to 8 feet tall, but is generally much shorter in container culture. The widely-spaced, alternate leaves clasp the thick stems in two parallel ranks. The lance-shaped leaves are up to 2 feet long, but relatively narrow (4-6 inches wide) with entire margins and pointed tips. They are glossy green on the upper surface and powdery-white below. The plant reproduces vegetatively by rhizomes, and in mild climates can colonize large areas this way. The stems eventually senesce and die, with a new stem growing from an axillary bud present in the rhizome.

Each flower has yellow petals and a prominent long red-orange stamen.

The showy flower spikes appear in late summer or early fall. Up to 50 flowers are borne in erect, dense, 1½-2 foot tall cylindrical racemes at the tips of the stems. The bright yellow flowers, each with a single, prominent stamen, emerge from cylindrical cones of green bracts. Narrow green bracts subtend each group of one or two flowers. Each flower has three large “petals” (inner tepals) that are fused together at the base into a narrow tube and a fourth, two-lobed, spoon-shaped tepal (a labellum) that is centrally tinged orange. The inconspicuous outer tepals are fused into a tube. There are also two elongated greenish-yellow lateral staminodes and a single large stamen borne on a long bright orange/red filament that is much longer than the labellum. The flowers have a strong, sweetly scented fragrance.

Flowering sequence from bud emerging at leaf tip (L), early bud (LC), early blooming (C), late bloom (RC) and spent flowers (R).

In mild climates flowers may be followed by fruit, thin-walled orange capsules that split open when mature. The persistent, three-chambered capsules have a bright orange inner surface and small, sticky, shiny bright red seeds that are spread by birds and mammals.

The orange fruit capsules (L), open (C) to reveal the bright red seeds (R).

In the Midwest kahili ginger is used as a seasonal or greenhouse plant. The foliage of kahili ginger is dramatic and architectural, so it looks great even not in bloom in summer on patios or decks with a tropical theme. Combine it with dark-leaved elephant ears, tall papyrus, and colorful annuals to bring an exotic look to a landscape. Because it blooms fairly late in the season, it may need to be moved indoors to enjoy the fragrant flowers if frost threatens.

A new shoot emerging from the soil.

This ginger needs rich soil and plentiful water throughout the year to achieve the most luxuriant growth. In the Midwest it does best in full sun, but tolerates partial shade. Water and fertilize regularly during the growing season, but cut back in winter. It tolerates short periods of drought but not standing in water. To keep it actively growing year round requires a fair amount of space and bright indirect light indoors in the winter. Plants overwintered indoors should remain inside until temperatures are consistently in the 40’s at night, and should be acclimated gradually to the brighter light outdoors before moving to their desired spot for the remainder of the growing season. The plants can be put in the ground (grow them like a canna) or remain in containers to make the move indoors before the first frost in fall easier. If the leaves are allowed to be killed by frost, cut back the stems to a few inches above the ground and hold in a dormant state (either in soil in the pot, or bare, stored as for dahlias or cannas) in a cool, frost-free place over the winter. Repot (dividing if necessary) in early spring and keep in a warm location (room temperature) to get the plants growing again well before they are to be moved outside after the last frost. These are vigorous plants with large, heavy rhizomes that can easily break containers if they don’t have sufficient room for the roots, so use large, sturdy containers.

This species is propagated by division in spring or from seed. The rhizomes are easily divided with a sharp knife, making sure there is one or more growing tip on each section. Allow the cut rhizomes to dry for a day or two before planting. Water sparingly until new shoots emerge from the soil. Growing from seed requires several years to get blooming plants. Seeds should be planted as soon as they are ripe and soaked for a few hours in warm water before planting. They should germinate in 3-4 weeks.

A few cultivars may be available, such as ‘Extendum’. Other similar species that are common in cultivation include white ginger (H. coronarium, with short clusters of white flowers with white stamens), yellow ginger (H. flavescens, with short clusters of pale yellow flowers with yellow stamens) and red ginger (H. coccineum, with elongated clusters of red, salmon or pink flowers), as well as hybrids between these species.

White ginger, Hedychium coronarium (L); yellow ginger, H. flavescens (C); and red ginger, H. coccineum (R).

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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