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. It’s also 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.
|Botanical Name||Etlingera elatior|
|Common Names||Torch ginger, Philippine wax flower, ginger flower, red ginger lily, torch lily|
|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. Keep in mind that it takes torch ginger around two years to bloom (sometimes even more), so if your young plant isn't flowering, it might simply be too early in its life cycle. If your mature plant starts to develop brown leaf margins, it probably isn’t getting enough water or humidity. If the torch ginger won’t bloom despite healthy leaf growth, the issue most likely is a lack of light.
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.
Propagating Torch Ginger
You can propagate torch ginger plants fairly easily through seed or division. To plant 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. When propagating torch ginger by division, carefully dig up a mature clump of torch ginger. Separate the clump with a sharp spade, keeping the roots intact. Then, replant the divided clumps wherever you’d like.
Torch Ginger Varieties
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.