Zingiber spectabile Griff. 1754
pronounced: ZING-ee-ber speck-TAH-bill-ee
(Zingiberaceae – the ginger family)
common name: Beehive Ginger
Zingiber comes originally from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘shaped like a horn’. The Greeks coined their own word ζιγγιβερρι (zingiberri) from the Sanskrit word; the Romans took over the Greek word and made it zingiber, which in Late Latin became gingiber; it passed into Middle English as gingevere, then finally to ginger. Spectabile is from the Latin spectabilis, visible, spectacular.
Zingiber is a genus of some 80 species of herbs with aromatic rhizomes, ranging from eastern Asia to northern Australia. Some are cultivated as condiments, especially the commercial ginger, Z. officinale, and some as ornamentals for their attractive inflorescences. Their colour comes from the bracts which surround the often insignificant flowers, and their unique fragrance is due to a high oil content.
The Zingiber spectabile pictured is probably one of the very many cultivars of the species, but I have no idea which one. The main difference between the various cultivars is the colour of the inflorescence.
The Beehive Ginger is a native of Malaya, and is cultivated for the inflorescence. One look at this inflorescence is all that is needed to know how it got its common name. The bee skep pictured is the type used in much of Europe in mediaeval times. It is made of coils of straw or grass, and in its simplest form it had a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. No internal structure was provided for the bees, and the colony had to produce its own honeycomb. Honey removal often resulted in the destruction of the entire hive. Beekeepers either drove the bees out of the skep, or killed them. Skeps were then squeezed in a vice to extract the honey.
Beehive Ginger grows to about 3 m high or more, arising from a fleshy, creeping rhizome. The leaves, from sheathing leaf bases, are simple, alternate, 2-ranked, subsessile, the blade narrowly elliptical, 20–50 cm long. It flowers intermittently throughout the year, but mostly in the summer and autumn. The flowers are many, borne among yellowish ovate bracts with rounded, curled tips in a dense ovoid to cylindrical spike 15–30 cm long on a leafless scape to 1 m high. In most cultivars the bracts usually gradually turn red with age. The corolla has fused petals, unequally 3-lobed, yellowish, usually 3–4 cm long, with an obovate, 2-lobed, petal-like labellum about 3 cm long, purple spotted with yellow, and with a single stamen. The fruit is a 3-angled capsule enclosed within the bracts.
Propagation is by division, including offsets. Moist but well-drained soils in partial shade are preferred. The inflorescence is often used to great advantage in flower arrangements.
The leaves are used in the preparation of traditional medicines. They are pounded into a paste and applied to the body to bring down swelling. An infusion of the leaves is also used to bathe inflamed eyelids.
Photographs © Donald Simpson, taken at Picnic Bay & at The Rocks Saturday Market, Sydney, 2009
Page last updated 3rd December 2014