THE PERENNIAL SEARCH
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
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
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: