Family : Zingiberaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm. (1986) is native to the pluvial forests of Borneo, Java, Sulawesi (Celebes), Sumatra, Thailand and Philippines (probably introduced).
The name of the genus is honoured to the German botanist Andreas Ernst Etlinger, author of the “Commentatio Botanico-Medica de Salvia” (1777) ; the name of the species “elatior” = higher, is the comparative of the Latin “elatus”.
The most diffused common names are: “kantan”, “bunga kantan”, “bunga siantan” (Malay); “kaa laa” (Thai); “torch ginger”, “Philippine waxflower”, “Indonesian tall ginger” (English); “rose de porcelaine”, “gingembre tropical” (French); “boca de dragon”, “baston del emperador”, “flor de cera” (Spanish); “Fackelingwer” (German); “bastao do imperador”, “rosa de porcelana” (Portuguese).
Perennial herbaceous plant, rhizomatous, shows stems with a diameter up to 4 cm and a height up to 5 metres, the leaves are lanceolate, long up to 80 cm and 18-20 cm wide, of an intense green colour. The inflorescences, on a peduncle tall up to around 1 metre which comes out directly from the rhizomes, are formed by a succession of coriaceous bracts of a bright red colour (pink and white varieties do exist) of a waxy appearance, the external ones long up to about 10 cm, which open and bend backwards in succession showing a compact spike formed by smaller bracts, pink coloured, inside of which the short-lasting flowers open, with petals with a colour varying from the pink to the red and dark red labellum with yellow margin. The fruits are globose indehiscent capsules (that is, remaining closed at maturity), of a diameter of about 25 mm, containing many seeds of black colour. It easily reproduces by division.
Plant of remarkable ornamental value, it is widely cultivated in all tropical countries, and has, in its native places, also an utilization in the feeding and in the traditional medicine, even if in less extent if compared to the ginger (Zingiber officinale). For the cultivation in open air, it needs a constant humid warm climate all the year round, preferably in partially shaded position, and rich soils rather acid or neutral; elsewhere is to be cultivated in warm greenhouse.
Synonyms : Alpinia elatior Jack (1822); Nicolaia elatior (Jack) Horan. (1852); Geanthus speciosus Reinw. ex Blume (1823); Diracodes javanica Blume (1827); Elettaria speciosa Blume (1827); Alpinia magnifica Roscoe (1828); Phaeomeria imperialis Lindl. (1836); Bojeria magnifica (Roscoe) Raf. (1838); Alpinia javanica (Blume) D.Dietr. (1839); Alpinia speciosa (Blume) D.Dietr. (1839); Alpinia acrostachya Steud. (1840); Nicolaia imperialis Horan. (1862); Nicolaia speciosa (Blume) Horan. (1862); Cardamomum magnificum (Roscoe) Kuntze (1891); Cardamomum speciosum (Blume) Kuntze (1891); Cardamomum tridentatum Kuntze (1891); Amomum magnificum (Roscoe) Benth. & Hook.f. ex B.D.Jacks. (1893); Amomum tridentatum (Kuntze) K.Schum. (1899); Hornstedtia imperialis (Lindl.) Ridl. (1899); Nicolaia magnifica (Roscoe) K.Schum. ex Valeton (1904); Phaeomeria magnifica (Roscoe) K.Schum. in H.G.A.Engler (1904); Phaeomeria speciosa (Blume) Koord. (1911); Nicolaia intermedia Valeton (1921); Alpinia diracodes Loes. in H.G.A.Engler (1930); Etlingera elatior var. alba Todam & C.K.Lim (2001); Etlingera elatior var. pileng Ongsakul & C.K.Lim (2001).