Etlingera elatior [et-LING-er-a, ee-LAY-tee-or] is a mostly ornamental member of the Ginger or Zingiberaceae family hailing from Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, and Thailand.
The tropical torch ginger plant grows to be 15′ or 20′ feet high in its natural habitat.
This rhizomatous perennial plant’s genus name was bestowed in honor of the eighteenth-century botanist, Andreas Ernst Etlinger.
The specific epithet, elatior, is a variation of the Latin, elatus, which means tall.
The plant is commonly called Torch Ginger because of its bright orange, pink or red flame-like flowers, which grow atop lofty stems.
Torch Ginger Care
Size & Growth
In ideal settings, Torch Ginger grows in dense groves up to 20′ feet high.
In semi-tropical settings, the plant may grow to be between 6′ and 15′ feet high, with individual plants spreading in rhizomatous clumps of 4′ to 10′ feet wide.
The arching, evergreen leaf stalks may grow to be 15′ feet tall.
The leaves are each about 3′ feet long and are centrally grooved, leathery, ribbed, and resemble banana leaves.
In temperate climates, the foliage can add a great deal of winter interest to the garden.
Ginger Torch Flowering & Fragrance
The showy flowers bloom seasonally.
Petals may be pink, yellow, orange, or red and grow on red bracts.
After flowering, the 3′ foot stem of the plant will die; however, new plants will grow up from the base.
Light & Temperature
Torch Ginger likes to be placed in a partially shaded setting sheltered from high winds.
It’s good to choose a setting shaded by a building or by shade trees for several hours daily to prevent excessive exposure to harsh sunlight.
It’s important to understand these plants are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures.
They must be covered when any frost is predicted, and they may do very poorly in areas where temperatures are lower than 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C) at night.
Torch Ginger is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12.
They grow outdoors year-round in Brazil, Malaysia, Hawaii, or Florida.
In other areas, they are kept as large greenhouse plants, but they do not make good houseplants.
They grow too large, and they cannot thrive.
Watering & Feeding
Torch Ginger has medium watering requirements, and the soil must be kept moist consistently.
In areas with ample rainfall, you may not need to water much or at all.
This ornamental Ginger is not drought-tolerant, and it also cannot tolerate standing in water.
If you get too much rainfall, you may need to dig a trench to help the water drain away.
Be sure to provide a good quality fertilizer with high levels of potassium monthly throughout the growing season.
Extra potassium helps the plant to uptake more water, and this is necessary if the plant is to thrive.
Soil & Transplanting
Soil should be well-draining and humus-rich.
It’s a very good idea to keep a thick layer of mulch over the soil to help retain moisture.
Test the soil regularly for both potassium levels and pH levels.
Go for a neutral pH falling between 5.6 and 7.5.
Grooming & Maintenance
The most important aspects of maintenance for these plants involve protection.
You must be sure to provide shelter from high winds, which will snap the leaf stalks and stems.
You must also be sure to keep a good layer of organic mulch over the soil to help retain water.
Compost and/or dried leaves are ideal for this purpose.
How To Propagate Etlingera Elatior
To get started with Etlingera elatior, direct sow the seeds into your garden soil in a partially shaded area where you have tested the soil’s pH and potassium levels.
Before sowing, you should soak the plant seeds in warm water overnight.
To plant successfully, dig a 3/4″ inch hole for each seed you wish to plant.
The holes should be spaced 6′ feet apart.
After dropping the seed in the hole, cover it lightly with rich, loose soil.
Water thoroughly and maintain constant moisture until your seeds have sprouted and become established.
Once established, these plants will self propagate easily through spreading rhizomes.
The rhizomes can then be divided annually to further propagation.
Etlingera Elatior Pest or Disease Problems
For the most part, this spicy plant is pest and disease resistant.
Aphid or grasshopper infestation may occasionally occur but are easily managed with an application of Neem oil solution.
Alternately, encourage natural predators, such as ladybugs, to help you keep little pests (e.g., aphids) under control.
Read more about “What Do Ladybugs Eat‘?
As with all plants, excessive watering can cause root rot and will cause leaf drop.
Is The Ginger Plant Toxic Or Poisonous?
Torch Ginger is non-toxic and has a great many uses in the kitchen and in medicine.
Its stems are often sliced thin and used in soups and curries.
The flowers may also be used in cold dishes, such as salads.
Studies have found various aspects of the plant can help reduce heavy metal toxicity, scavenge free radicals in the blood, and deliver a number of other protective and healing benefits.
Is This Ginger Invasive?
In the contiguous United States, this plant is easy to grow in semi-tropical settings and then does not have as much weed potential as it does in truly tropical settings.
In places such as Hawaii, Costa Rica, and China, where it has been introduced and cultivated as an ornamental flower, it has become quite invasive.
Torch Ginger spreads readily through rhizome division and also seed distribution.
In many tropical areas with consistently moist conditions, it has grown into dense thickets that force out native plants.
If you live in a tropical or semi-tropical setting, you should keep a close eye on this plant and make sure it stays contained in your garden.
Suggested Torch Ginger Uses
Torch Ginger is a good addition to a tropical bee, butterfly, and general pollinator garden.
Hummingbirds and other sorts of birds enjoy the flowers and the long, welcoming foliage.
The flowers do very well in floral arrangements, and the large, sturdy foliage adds excellent winter interest to a tropical garden.