Thursday, 15 January 2009


I remember being in awe of the stunning red torch ginger (Etlingera elatior, red form) when I saw it for the first time at the Singapore Botanic Gardens many years ago. Its sceptre like inflorescence was quite unlike any flower I had seen before. I was even more amazed when I found out that the pink form (bunga kantan) is in fact the aromatic ingredient commonly used in rojak and assam.

Etlingeras are a genus of evergreen rhizomatous herbs belonging to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Although some 100 species of etlingera have been discovered, mostly near the equator, the most widely cultivated and therefore common species has to be the bunga kantan, which is grown and harvested for both the commercial cut flower industry as well as a culinary ingredient. The inforescence of Etlingeras can vary considerably, from the showy sceptre like inforescences of the Etlingera elatior to those which flower at grown level. Some of the larger Etlingeras even have leafy shoots which can reach almost 10 metres high.

So far, i've managed to collect four species of Etlingera; the red, pink and white forms of the Etlingera elatior and a hybrid known as the Etlingera Yamamoto. The ones which I am still on a look out for are the tulip torch, Siam Rose, Malay Rose and the Littoralis.

Also, it may be of some interest to know that the inflorescence does not always appear from the ground. There have been occasions in the past where the inflorescence can appear at the terminal end of a leaf stalk, similar to the costus. So far, this has only happened once and the photos below will show you how it looks. It is not known what causes this strange phenomenon.

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