Variegated Ginger (Shell Ginger)

Variegated Ginger (Shell Ginger)

A popular herbaceous perennial in central and south Florida is variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet variegata). Grown primarily for it’s beautiful foliage in shades of green, yellow, and cream, it does bloom in spring. The flower buds hang like grapes, then open, revealing tiny flowers that resemble orchids. They are also said to resemble sea shells, and because of this, many people call the plant “shell ginger”.


Native to Asia, Alpinia is hardy in Zones 8 – 10.



Is Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata Edible?

No. While it is closely related to the culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), whose rhizomes we are all familiar with, Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT edible.


Alpinia’s Requirements:


Fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer. “Balanced” means all three numbers should be the same, for example 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Use a liquid plant food, or dilute a water-soluble granular fertilizer to half-strength. Using hot or warm water will help to dissolve the granules, but take care not to pour hot water onto your plant or the ground around it. Always read the instructions on the package, as strengths will vary between brands. Do not expect blooms right away. New growth, as well as newly planted rhizomes will bloom in the second year.


Although it can take some sun, variegated ginger does best in, at least, partial shade, protected from the harsh afternoon sun. Please do not plant it in an area where you have used rocks instead of mulch.


It requires rich, moist, but well-drained soil. It is NOT drought-tolerant, so it requires frequent watering, especially if planted in full sun. Full sun stresses the plant, and increases the need for water.


Alpinia should be planted in rich, moist, well-drained soil. 


About Those Flowers

New leaf stalks will flower in their second year. After blooming, the stalk not bloom again, but new stalks will quickly grow in to replace the older ones. It is fine to remove the older stalks after the flower petals have wilted and fallen off, but if the leaves still look healthy, they can be left in place until they turn brown.

The Large, Gorgeous Leaves of Variegated Ginger
The leaves on this plant will add interest and a tropical flavor to your garden. The flowers are serendipity — “icing on the cake”. Proper care will ensure that Alpinia brings you pleasure for years to come. For information on pruning your variegated ginger, check out my blog post,  How to Prune Variegated Ginger.



There is Also Red Ginger Foliage

There is also a red cultivar of variegated ginger. It has lovely shades of red/burgundy, white, and some green. Before buying a red one, be aware that it requires far more shade than the green type. Below is a photo of a red one that was planted in both full sun and rocks.

The sun baked the plant all day long. The rocks baked its shallow roots. It was later replaced with a hosta, that also baked in the sun. We Master Gardeners have a saying to ensure plants are where they will be happiest: “Right plant, right place”.