Alpinia caerulea is an understorey perennial lily-type plant (monocot; not woody) with fleshy stems, growing to 3 metres high, forming clumps to 1 or more metres wide, with a large rhizome.
It is found naturally in NSW, growing north from around Gosford, extending up the coast and coastal hinterland, into Queensland, all the way to Cape York.
It is found in rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests.
Alpinia have simple leaves, produced in even-ranked pairs (distichious). The leaves are produced on non-woody palm-like stems which emerge from a ginger-like rhizome. In this species, leaves are lanceolate to oblong, to 40 cm long and to 10 cm wide. They can have dark red undersides, which lends to its beauty.
Alpinia have flowers have a modified structure but have flower parts somewhat like a lily (i.e. monocot) with 6 tepals (3 petals and 3 sepals which are undifferentiated), some of which are fused into a tube. Each flower has a front wide showy tepal (which is a landing pad for insects). Flowers are produced in a terminal spike-like head up to 30 cm long by 8 cm across and are mainly white but with yellow and red parts.
The fruit are capsules, globose, to 1 cm across, with a brittle outer covering containing the black seeds and white pulp, and arranged on the same large post-flowering structure.
A hardy plant in cultivation and it prefers a lightly shaded to full shade position and will form a clump to 2 metres tall. Can also be used indoors. Not frost tolerant and prefers a warm climate. Lends well to rainforest and tropical gardens as an understorey. May be useful around swimming pools.
Remove old stems once they have flowered at 2 years old. Old clumps can be rejuvenated by slashing to ground level in spring. Without annual pruning, the clump will look burnt and untidy.
Ginger shoot borer eats the inside of the pseudostems and may prevent flowering.
Flowers attract bees and butterflies.
A good bush tucker – the centres of new shoots have mild gingery flavour and are excellent in various dishes as a ginger substitute. The roots can also be used in cooking, and have a more earthy resinous flavour.
Leaves can be used to wrap food for cooking and also for thatching.
Fruiting stems can be cut for decoration.
Seed or rhizome division.
Redback Ginger or ‘Atherton Form’ is a form from Queensland with reddish underside to the leaf.
Likely fire retardant. Can likely regenerate easily from rhizomes after fire but unlikely to be in habitats exposed to fire.
First Nations Peoples of Australia have used the leaves to wrap fish for steaming and it has pink rhizome roots that are edible, similar to traditional ginger – Zingiber officinale – which is in the same family.
Alpinia is a large genus of over 250 species, native to Australia and the wider Pacific, extending to Malesia. Australia has 5 species, 4 endemic, occurring in NSW and Queensland with two species currently recognised in NSW.
Alpinia – is named in honour of Prospero Alpini (1553-1617), a 16th and 17th -century Italian doctor and botanist who specialized in exotic plants and discovered some very important aspects relating to plant pollination and use. The ginger-family genus Alpinia was named in his honour by Carolus Linnaeus.
caerulea – from the Latin caerulea / caeruleum – which means ‘blue’, ‘dark blue’ or ‘sky blue’ referring to the fruit colour.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
Gardening with Angus – Alpinia caerulea profile page
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Alpinia caerulea profile page
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.