Friday, January 14, 2011

Alpinia Zerumbet ‘Variegata’

I got my first glimpse of the striking Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ a long time ago at a garden center near my previous home. At the time, it was only sold as a large specimen so I never picked one up. I yearned for it for quite some time until I finally ran across the dwarf version that fit perfectly into my living room.


Although I ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ the first few weeks of owning this beautiful plant, eventually I ‘ughed’ and ‘acked’ because it proved to be a little more difficult to keep happy indoors than I had anticipated, which eventually had it taking a trip to the big greenhouse in the sky – on a one way ticket. I don’t blame the plant for deteriorating; I wasn’t prepared (or equipped) to meet some of its care requirements.


Now that I know better, I want to share what I’ve learned about the care requirements of this lovely plant. Hopefully this information will help you succeed with it if you have one already, or if you are contemplating picking on up.

Caring For The Variegated Shell Ginger

Native to the open woodlands of tropical Asia, Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ goes by the common name of variegated shell ginger and ornamental ginger, although the former is more popular. Even though it’s typically grown in an outdoor garden, it can be grown inside the home provided its needs are met accordingly. That being said, let’s get one thing straight:

Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ is not easy to grow indoors; it must be grown in the right environment or else it will deteriorate rapidly. And even though it may continue to survive despite the less than ideal conditions it’s growing in, it will not thrive. In fact, it will look terrible. The once stunning yellow and green variegated foliage will brown at the edges and the plant will become very unattractive.

One of the most essential needs of this plant is ample humidity. If the air is too dry, the tips and margins of the leaves will turn brown and crispy, and an invitation will be sent to eager spider mites to move right in. Improve humidity levels by placing your plant on a pebble tray, by keeping a humidifier nearby, by double-potting and filling the space between the containers with damp peat moss, by grouping plants together to form a microclimate with higher humidity or by growing your plant in a room where humidity is naturally higher. If you can’t provide high levels of humidity reconsider taking one of these plants home from the greenhouse.

Adequate light is also important in keeping an Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ happy. While it can tolerate a wide range of light conditions, it prefers bright light including some sun. An ideal location is near a bright window out of the direct path of southern sun. Some filtered sunshine is fine; early morning eastern or late afternoon western sun is handled very well. Do not grow directly in hot, midday sun during the summer.

Use a porous, well-draining medium and water plentifully during the spring and summer seasons whenever the surface feels dry. The plant should be kept evenly moist at all times; the edges of the leaves will brown if the soil dries out. Water moderately in the winter but do not allow the plant to dry out completely. Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ is a perfect candidate for the hydroculture system. Just rinse the roots free of soil and pot the plant up in clay pellets. This beautiful plant can also be grown directly in water; make sure to change the water often (once a week is ideal) to provide sufficient air for the roots.

You can feed weekly during the growing season with a fertilizer for flowering plants that is diluted to ½ the recommended strength. Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ produces clusters of yellow, purple-tinted flowers with ivory bracts in the summer, although I’ve personally never seen them. Average household temperatures are fine. Do not expose to levels below 13°C (55°F).

As you’ve realized by now, Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’ is not impossible to grow as a houseplant. It’s just picky about the care you provide. As long as you can cater to its needs, it will do just fine. And it will look beautiful inside your home.

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