Scientific name: Hedychium gardnerianum
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Bloom: Bright yellow flowers with a long red/orange stamen; fragrant
Environment: Full sun to partial shade, with wet, well-drained soil
Uses: Border gardens
Entry Garden – 5K,
Moon Viewing Garden – 53G,
Rhododendron Garden – 73H, 73G,
Temperate Asia – 4B, 41I
Hedychium gardnerianum, or kahili ginger, is a floriferous and fragrant perennial from the Eastern Himalayas. These fragrant and striking blooms have made kahili ginger a popular ornamental around the world.
Hedychium gardnerianum is native to India, Nepal, and Bhutan. In these regions it is found in subtropical, montane forests in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. European botanists first became aware of this species through collections made near Kathmandu, Nepal in the early 19th century and it was introduced to horticulture in England soon after. From that first introduction it became a popular ornamental plant and spread globally throughout the last two centuries, though not without some consequence. Hedychium gardnerianum has naturalized in regions around the world including the Caribbean, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. Unfortunately, in some of these regions it is considered invasive and is a serious threat to local biodiversity.
The common name kahili ginger originates from its introduction to the Hawaiian Islands. The plant is said to resemble the kāhili feather staffs carried by Hawaiian aliʻi, or chiefs. Some in Hawaii are moving away from the use of this common name kahili ginger, as it can cause confusion and encourage the idea that H. gardnerianum is native to the Islands, instead of an invasive species.
Kahili ginger is popular due to its large, bright, green leaves and its long stalk of bright yellow flowers with a long red-orange stamen. The flowers are quite fragrant, and the species was even cultivated specifically for the collection of its essence for perfumes and other fragrances in the early 20th century.
Kahili ginger spreads via rhizomes that live underground and will produce new shoots each year that can grow up to 6 ft. These shoots will die back each year after the plant produces fruit. The seeds produced by the fruits are bright red and fleshy, making them popular with birds and small mammals, such as rats, which can result in wide dispersal of seeds.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Victoria Stewart and photos by Victoria Stewart and Saxon Holt.