Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior) is a perennial tropical plant with distinctive colorful blooms. The entire shape of the bloom and flower stalk is said to resemble a torch, hence the plant’s common name. These showy plants flower seasonally on bare flower stalks with cone-shaped flower heads surrounded by large, slightly drooping bracts (petal-like leaves). On the plant’s upright stems grow leathery leaves that are around 3 feet long with a central groove. The flowers of torch ginger are used for floral arrangements, as well as in cooking for their sour-sweet flavor.
Torch ginger has a fairly quick growth rate and is best planted in the spring. In the warm, humid climate that it prefers, torch ginger grows quite large—up to 15 feet tall and almost as wide—and spreads in clumps.
|Common Name||Torch ginger, Philippine wax flower, ginger flower, red ginger lily, torch lily|
|Botanical Name||Etlingera elatior|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||6–15 ft. tall, 4–10 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||Red, pink, white|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (USDA)|
Torch Ginger Care
Care for your torch ginger plant by emulating a tropical environment as closely as possible if you aren’t already in its native growing zones: This means plenty of water, heat, and humidity.
When planting your torch ginger, select a location that has protection from strong winds, which can damage its tall stems. Water young plants consistently, so the soil remains evenly moist. Mature plants still will require regular watering, as torch ginger has low drought tolerance. These plants also prefer regular feeding, especially if you have nutrient-deficient soil. Under the proper growing conditions, torch ginger doesn’t have any serious issues with pests or diseases.
Torch ginger plants can grow in full sun to partial shade, meaning they need at least three hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, they will appreciate some protection from the harsh afternoon sun, which can scorch the foliage.
While they can tolerate a variety of soil types, torch ginger plants thrive in organically rich soil with sharp drainage. They prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. The soil also must be high in potassium, which assists the plants in water uptake. Doing a soil test before planting can let you know whether you need to amend your soil.
Torch ginger prefers consistently moist soil but not persistently soggy conditions. This species can tolerate being waterlogged for a short time, but eventually, this will cause root rot. Plan to water whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of soil has dried out, especially during the warmest months of the year.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants thrive in warmth and humidity. They have no tolerance for frost and prefer temperatures to remain consistently above 50 degrees. In dry climates, a layer of mulch around the torch ginger can help to retain soil moisture. However, the plants still might fail to grow well.
Feed torch ginger plants throughout the growing season (spring to fall) with a fertilizer that’s high in potassium, following label instructions. Adding a mix of compost into the soil also can help to boost its level of organic matter.
Types of Torch Ginger
Torch ginger is available in varieties primarily based on its flower color, including:
- ‘Yamamoto’: This plant is notably tall and features large, light pink blooms.
- ‘Giant Red Torch Ginger’: This variety can grow to 20 feet tall and blooms with bright red flowers.
- ‘White Torch Ginger’: This rare plant features large white blooms with hints of yellow.
- ‘Borneo Pink Torch Ginger’: This is another rare plant with pink blooms and red to maroon leaves.
- ‘Sunset Red Torch Ginger’: This rare plant has red blooms and leaves that are dark green on top and reddish-purple underneath.
Pruning needs are relatively minimal for torch ginger. In the early spring, prune any depreciated or broken shoots and foliage. Also, remove any offshoots—tiny new plants growing along the base of the original plant—if you want to keep the torch ginger’s tidy upright shape.
Propagating Torch Ginger
You can propagate torch ginger plants fairly easily through division. Not only is this an inexpensive way to create new plants, but it also helps to prevent your mature plants from becoming crowded. The best time to divide is in the spring or summer. Here's how:
- Carefully dig up a mature clump of torch ginger.
- Separate the clump with a sharp spade, keeping the roots as intact as possible by teasing them apart.
- Replant the divided clumps in suitable growing sites, and water to moisten the soil.
How to Grow Torch Ginger From Seed
To plant torch ginger seeds, start by soaking them overnight. Next, push them about 1/2 inch down into a container of seed-starting mix, and water so the soil is evenly moist. Cover the container with plastic wrap, and set it in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight where the temperature will remain between 77 and 86 degrees. Continue to keep the soil evenly moist. You should see germination within three to four weeks.
Potting and Repotting Torch Ginger
Torch ginger can be started in a small pot, but then it is best transplanted into garden soil. With its rapid growth rate and large height and width, it will quickly become unsuitable for container growth. The container you start it in should have ample drainage holes. Any material should be fine, though unglazed clay is ideal to allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls if you overwater.
Torch ginger cannot survive in climates that experience frost and freezing temperatures. If you're expecting unusually cold temperatures within the plant's growing zones, you can protect your torch ginger with a layer of mulch or row covers.
How to Get Torch Ginger to Bloom
Tiny flowers cover the cone-shaped inflorescence on the flower stalks. But what makes torch ginger’s blooms grand are the large petal-like bracts that surround the cone. The plant blooms throughout the year, and the flowers can last a couple of weeks or more.
Keep in mind that it takes torch ginger around two years to bloom and sometimes even more. So if your young plant isn't flowering, it might simply be too early in its lifecycle. If your mature torch ginger won’t bloom despite healthy leaf growth, the issue most likely is a lack of light. Deadheading (removing the spent blooms) also can help to encourage further blooming.
Common Problems With Torch Ginger
Torch ginger generally grows without issue in its native environment. However, when conditions are off, problems can arise.
Leaves Turning Brown
If your torch ginger plant starts to develop brown leaf margins, it probably isn’t getting enough water or humidity. Make sure the soil doesn't drain too quickly and instead remains lightly moist (but not soggy).
How long can torch ginger live?
Torch ginger can essentially live indefinitely in the garden, as it will continue to spread via rhizomes. Just make sure to divide mature plants to keep them vigorous.
What's the difference between torch ginger and ginger?
Like the ginger root you'd find at the grocery store, torch ginger is edible. However, torch ginger is known for its citrusy taste with hints of sweet and sour floral notes rather than the sharp, spiced taste of common ginger root. All parts of torch ginger are safe to eat, but the flower buds and stems are most often used in cooking.
Can torch ginger grow indoors?
It's possible to grow this species as a houseplant, though it's typically very difficult to mimic torch ginger's natural environment. The plant might not grow and flower to its fullest potential indoors.
Etlingera elatior. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Potassium for crop production. University of Minnesota Extension.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale. University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension.