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 Perennial Notes Excerpts


From time to time, we will be bringing you Perennial Search stories from our archives. This review of Ginger Lilies first appeared in the Fall 1991 issue of Perennial Notes, Volume VI, No. 3. This is a good time to think about ginger lilies, which bloom in late summer and fall, so that you can find and plant them now. They are a big favorite with hummingbirds. Check with our supporting nurseries, many of whom have a wide selection of Hedychium to choose from.

Ginger Lilies: Hedychium coronarium
by Sue Vrooman

from Perennial Notes Volume VI, No. 3 Fall 1991

The ending of the day is usually hot and humid. Hummingbirds are visiting the impatiens and the largest golden garden spider yet has spun another perfect orb from the balloon flowers to the butterfly bush. A subtle breeze sirs the air and there it is, the rich sweet unmistakable smell of ginger lilies, Hedychium coronarium (pronounced hay DIH kee um kor roe NA ree um).

No calendar is required. August is ending in Georgia. One whiff and I am filled with pleasure and the sense of being home. Ginger lilies are for me one of the South’s signature plants.

The thick, cane-like, leafy stems on the ginger lily rise 6’ to 6 1/2‘ from stout rhizomes and closely resemble cannas. Their large smooth leaves retain a lush, green, tropical appearance throughout the season. Unlike canna foliage, they are unmolested by leaf roller caterpillars. The Ginger’s height suggests a back-of-the-bed placement or even inclusion in the shrub border.

Throughout late summer and fall, until frost, a succession of pure white, very fragrant flowers, 4" across are produced in a spike up to one foot long. The spike is composed of floral bracts from whose axils the beautiful blossoms emerge. Several open at once and stand erect while the old flowers droop. Their fragrance intensifies as evening approaches and it is reminiscent of gardenias. This wonderful smell is responsible for its generic name, Hedychium, from Greek, meaning "sweet snow". It is also known by the names Butterfly Lily for the flower’s resemblance to large white butterflies and by Garland flower, since it is used for garlands in India, it’s native home. The more common appellation, Ginger lily, acknowledges it’s membership in the Ginger family which also gives rise to the spice-producing plant.

One old garden book suggested that the flowers were wonderful for decoration in a season when others were scarce. They were thought especially suited for church arrangements and other large effects.

The plants are very easy to grow in sun or part shade. When planted in part shade they lean toward the light, so some form of restraint is necessary if smaller plants or paths are being threatened. They like moisture and grow well in our heavy clay soil, though they do best if it is organically enriched. Their love of moisture makes them foolproof for pond or lake shores. Lack of sufficient water, however, results in smaller, less vigorous plants. The thick rhizomes of the Ginger lily appreciate division every three or four years, otherwise flowering decreases. I prefer to do this in spring as they start to emerge. This is also the best time to put in new plants.

I cut the canes back to the ground after the first frost and mulch well with either manure or pine straw. Treated in this manner, they are quite hardy in the Atlanta area.

Reward yourself with a grouping of these beautiful fragrant plants. Then sit back and bask in the envy of your Northeast gardening friends. Ginger lilies are one of the great joys of the Southern garden.

The photo is used with the permission of Florida Master Gardener Dave Skinner.

To learn more about hedychium and investigate the many varieties available, see his website at: