Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shell Ginger

Alpinia zerumbet in flower
I have been to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb conservatory on Belle Isle almost every week for the last month and just noticed this shell ginger or Alpinia zerumbet blooming this week. I must be blind! Granted, it is above my head and I'm helping with 4th grade students who I'm looking down at, but still, how could I miss these beautiful flowers?

Alpinia zerumbet flower buds do look like shells
Alpinia zerumbet flower close up

Shell ginger, also called shellflower, pink porcelain lily, shellplant, and pearl-of-the-orient is a beautiful bloomer. It is obvious why it is called ginger or porcelain flower. The flower buds are shiny white with pink tips, and definitely look like shells or porcelain. It needs rich, organic, well drained soil, but doesn't want to dry out. It is native to China and the southern Japanese islands. Shell ginger grows from rhizomes and can grow 7-10' tall. If you are lucky enough to live in USDA Zone 9-11, you can grow them outside and see them flower.  Here in the frozen north (Zone 6a for me), they can only be seen in conservatories.  Grown as container plants or in the ground, the rhizomes can be dug and stored for the winter. The problem with that is they bloom on second year growth and if the foliage is cut off, it won't  bloom. Now, if you were to overwinter it as a houseplant and put it back outside, it may bloom...... Even without the blooms, the variegated version is beautiful and in fact, we sell it at our garden center in the spring. They can take full sun but do better in light shade. It definitely brightens up a shady container. I've read that they have "round, ribbed, hairy, vermilion, 3/4"diameter seed capsules." I will definitely be looking for those and will post a picture when they appear.

Dendrobium hsinying cruenzuki
The shell ginger flower reminds me of this Dendrobium above. I wrote about that orchid here.
Alpinia zerumbet
Remember when you are visiting a conservatory, look everywhere; up, down, and side ways. You never know what you might miss. I am so glad I looked up!

I love the sun shining through this flower

Check out the philodendron stems in the left side of this picture


  1. Beautiful flowers, really beautiful and designed detail. Thanks for the posting. I saw many similar plants at the Chicago Botanic Garden over the holidays. Jack