How to Grow Red Button Ginger

Red button ginger tree (Costus woodsonii) flower and foliage, photo taken in Thailand.


Pacharawat Thamjaroenmas / Getty Images

Red Button Ginger (Costus woodsonii) makes a bold addition to the garden. Learn to grow and care for this herbaceous evergreen and watch its glossy, green, oval-shaped foliage spiral around proud, upright stems. Also called Indian Head Ginger, Spiral Ginger, Red Cane Ginger, or Scarlet Spiral Flag, bright ruby red spiky cones produce orange flag-like flowers, each less than one inch in size, with a barely visible lower yellow lip. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 through 11, this perennial shines best in tropical landscapes. If temperatures stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it will flower most of the year. Showy flowers catch the eye in mass plantings from a distance, along a border, or near the coast. Blooms are edible and make lovely cut flowers.

The flowering ginger familyZingiberaceae, includes 47 genera and more than 1,000 species. Common genus names are AlpiniaHedychium, and Zingiber (which includes the edible culinary ginger) in addition to Red Button Ginger's Costus family.

Botanical Name Costus woodsonii
Common Names Red Button Ginger, Scarlet Spiral Flag, Indian Head Ginger, Spiral Ginger, Red Cane Ginger
Plant Type Herbaceous evergreen
Mature Size Three to four feet tall, three to four feet wide
Sun Exposure Full to partial shade
Soil Type Rich, moist
Soil pH Acid to neutral
Bloom Time June through August
Flower Color Red cones to orange-yellow flowers
Hardiness Zones 9, 10, 11
Native Area Central America
Red button ginger tree (Costus woodsonii) flower and foliage, photo taken in Thailand.
Pacharawat Thamjaroenmas / Getty Images

How to Grow Red Button Ginger

A beloved spiral ginger among gardeners in the deep south of the U.S. and in Central and South America, the Red Button Ginger is easily cared for by beginners and offers year-round interest. It grows three to four feet tall and wide, possibly up to 12 feet in hot temperatures and other optimal conditions. Space these rhizomes accordingly. When spaced further apart, the less often they will need to be propagated by division in the future. Red Button Ginger is one of many unusual flowers to explore for the home garden or a more professional tropical landscape.

Light

Red Button Ginger thrives in full to part shade among companions such as Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon), Bush Lily (Clivia), Hosta (Hosta), Brunfelsia (Brunfelsia), and Arelia (Fatsia). It is quite tolerant of humid conditions. While it thrives most in hot temperatures, after light frosts this ginger will wilt and bounce back. Sometimes even after a hard freeze, it will grow back from the roots.

Soil and Water

Establish in rich, moist soil that ranges between neutral (6.6 – 7.3) and slightly acidic (6.1 – 6.5). Water regularly to maintain moisture, weekly or more often depending on the weather.

Wildlife Considerations

If you are an avid bird watcher or love seeing hummingbirds, the Red Button Ginger is a good fit.

Botanist Chelsea Specht of Berkeley and Cornell University posed an interesting question about the Costaceae plant family: "In Central and South America, such flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds — but hummingbirds don't live in Southeast Asia! So who is pollinating those Southeast Asian Costaceae with their stunning red flowers?"

The answer is sunbirds. In Southeast Asia, these small brightly-colored birds use their long beaks to reach into deep flowers, sip their nectar, and help pollinate other Costaceae blooms.

While hummingbirds hover at a food source, sunbirds perch to consume nectar. Plants pollinated by each have evolved to meet the needs of each creature. Plants that are pollinated by hummingbirds do not necessarily have a place to perch. Sunbird-pollinated plants have developed perches in the form of thick leaves known as bracts.

So Red Button Ginger is pollinated by hummingbirds in their native America, while the sunbirds take care to pollinate them in Southeast Asia!

Planting Red Button Ginger in Containers

Group together in large containers to contain its invasive tendencies. Containers must be at least 3 gallons in size and provide excellent drainage. In cooler parts of the world, welcome it indoors as a houseplant. Plant in average to moist soil. Take care to not let the soil dry out completely. Water once or twice a week depending on the location, pot size, plant size, etc. Place in bright or indirect sunlight or strong artificial light. To maintain its shapely oval form, occasional pruning is recommended. When tended to properly, it will grow at a medium rate to about two feet tall and live for about 10 years.