The Blue Ginger plant is a popular ornamental landscaping plant for the tropical outdoor garden. The plant produces attractive, three-petalled flowers that are bluish in colour with small yellow centers. Flowers are borne on a terminal spike. The entire flower spike when still in bud looks very much like the one produced by a blue hyacinth bulb. For those of us who are more imaginative, it may look like a bunch of grapes, except that is held upright!
A much ought-after plant by tropical plant connoisseurs, the Blue Ginger plant constitutes one of the small number of plants that features the cooler blue colour in its flowers. The floral colours of most other tropical plants are more on the ‘warmer side’ which include red, yellow and orange.
The beautiful flowers of the Blue Ginger grown in HortPark.
The common name, ‘Blue Ginger’ is, in fact, a misnomer. This plant is botanically known as Dichorisandra thyrsiflora and it is not a true ginger at all. It is a member of the Commelinaceae family and its relatives include the Boat Lily (Tradescantia spathacea) and the Wandering Jew (T. zebrina).
It got mistakened to be a ginger probably due to the entire plant’s resemblence with a Spiral Ginger (Costus spp.). The Blue Ginger plant produces tall stems with leaves that are arranged in a spiral manner that is similar to the growth habit of Spiral Gingers. Although both the Blue Ginger and a Spiral Ginger both do not emit an aromatic smell when they are injured, they can be easily told apart because the latter plant produces flowers that are borne on a cone-like structure of bracts.
Unlike a Spiral Ginger which belongs to the genus Costus, the Blue Ginger produces flowers that are borne individually on a flower spike attached to it via a distinct stalk. Costus flowers are produced on a cone-like structure of bracts and they peek out from a space between two overlapping bracts.
For those who know Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) and do a bit of cooking, the name “Blue Ginger” may lead one to think that the plant is the Greater Galangal, which is botanically known as Alpinia galangal, a true ginger belonging to the Zingiberaceae family. This cooking ginger is a common spice that is used in this part of the world and the confusion arises because its Chinese name ”南姜” is pronounced as “Lam Kiew” in Hokkien and its pronounciation sounds similar if one is to say “Blue Ginger” using the same dialect.
The leaves of the Blue Ginger are arranged in a spiral manner around its tall stem which is similar to that seen in Spiral Gingers.
When it comes to its growing conditions, the Blue Ginger can be taken care in a way that is similar to that with Spiral Gingers. The Blue Ginger is a plant that prefers to be grown in cooler and shadier conditons. Semi-shaded conditions with filtered sunshine would be most optimal. Plants become sun-burnt easily if they are grown in under direct sunshine. Under shady conditions, the plant produces leaves that feature a beautiful silver stripe.
The plant is, however, not an easy plant to bloom under Singapore’s tropical lowland conditions. One has to find the ‘right’ cool and shady spot where the plant likes to grow in. The Blue Ginger plant likes to be planted in a humid and windless location. Its roots should be moist and not soggy wet. During the cooler, wetter months at the end of the year like now, the Blue Ginger can be persuaded to bloom.
The plant is propagated vegetatively the same way like what can be done with Spiral Gingers. A long stem can be cut into shorter sections with several internodes and these can be stuck into some well-drained soil placed in a shady and protected location like what is commonly done for propagation via stem-cuttings.