Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Red Ginger or Ostrich Plume, ALPINIA PURPURATA

from the December 13, 2009 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

One of my tasks here is to develop a "Plant Finding Guide" so that as visitors walk around the grounds they can identify the more interesting and spectacular plants. This is something I enjoy and I always learn something new about each species.

NOTE: Red Ginger is not the source of the ginger root used in cooking. Ginger root is produced by Zingiber officinale, which belongs to the same plant family as Red Ginger (the Ginger Family, the Zingiberaceae) but resides in an entirely different genus. All parts of Red Ginger are reported as mildly toxic, causing cardiac effects. The sap may cause brief, minor skin and eye irritations.
Above you see a pretty species planted worldwide in the tropics, Red Ginger, sometimes called Ostrich Plume, ALPINIA PURPURATA. It really is a kind of ginger, or at least a member of the Ginger Family, the Zingiberaceae. The glossy, banana-tree-like leaves are very typical of the Ginger Family, and so is the colorful, cylindrical flower-spike.

Actually, despite the spike's colorfulness, at this time our Red Gingers bear no flowers. Each red, scoop-shaped item is a bract, or modified leaf, which during the flowering season arises beneath a flower. If right now you look into the axil between a bract and the flower stem you'll find only a scar where the fruit has fallen off, or maybe in the lower bracts you'll find an old fruit. The flowers when they do come will be fragrant and orchidlike, white tinged purplish, so that's something to look forward to seeing.

Despite its prettiness this is a rugged and adaptable plant. Originally from Malaysia, in much of the tropics it's gone wild and now is considered an invasive species unwelcome in many places because of its impact on the local flora.

from the February 26, 2012 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Red Ginger is easy to propagate because often it produces large, ready-to- transplant, leafy shoots among its flowers, as seen below:

Red Ginger, ALPINIA PURPURATA, vegetative shoots

I established several Red Gingers outside the hut door using sprouts just like these. Just picked them off the plant, stuck them into the ground, and waited.