African Gingers

By John Banta

The rarity of African gingers is only matched by their beauty. The rarest, and most costly is the remarkable blue flowered, Siphonchilus beachystemon. It was discovered in Kenya in 1957 by an English tourist. It reminded her of the beautiful blue Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis grandis, she often admired at the Edinburgh Botanical Garden so she had her guide collect a plant or two that she took back to Edinburgh. The few plants available in horticulture today come from that original collection over 50 years ago.

Fortunately there are about 15 species of Siphonchilus found in Africa and some of most outstanding ones make grand additions to our gardens. Listed in order of their vigor and availability they are:

Siphonochilus decorus
The large butter yellow flowers only last for a day but they continue to develop for weeks. In Zimbabwe it is considered one of the outstanding native plants. It is closely related to the next ginger and forms hybrids with it that are usually sterile.

Siphonochilus kirkii
Named in honor of Sir John Kirk, an accomplished botanist and a companion to the famous African explorer, Dr David Livingstone. This species has a number of color forms (yellow- decorus); (pink – roseus); (Pink with a spotted labellum – carsonii) .
All of these color forms produce hybrids that result in a whole range of colors from paper white through many pastels. A wonderful botanical adventure awaits some ambitious grower.

Last but not least is
Siphonochilus aethiopicus, a rare plant to obtain because it produces the largest flowers in the gunus almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) across.