Alpinia purpurata

red ginger


Alpinia purpurata

(Vieill.) K.Schum. 1904

pronounced: al-PIN-ee-uh pur-pur-AH-tuh

(Zingiberaceae — the ginger family)


common names: red ginger, jungle king, jungle queen

Alpinia is named for Prospero Alpino (1553–1617), an Italian physician. After taking his medical degree in 1578, he practised as a physician in the small town of Campo San Pietro; but as his real interest was in botany, he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to the Venetian consul in Cairo. He spent three years in Egypt, and from the observation of date palms it appears he was the first botanist to deduce the sexual difference in plants. He wrote, “the female date-trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together; or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers”. This was the foundation on which Linnaeus built his taxonomy system.

Purpurata (from purpuratus) is Latin for ‘dressed in (royal) purple’.

Alpinia purpurata is a rhizomatous perennial from tropical America: it has a very showy flower, can grow more than two metres tall, and can develop into large clumps. There are two varieties: the red (Jungle King) and the pink (Jungle Queen). The brightly coloured spike of bracts looks like the bloom, but isn’t. Small white flowers emerge from the ends of the bracts.


The plant has large green oblong leaves emerging from a stem that consists of closely folded blades, as with banana plants. The fruits and the seeds that they produce are very small. Both the Jungle King and the Jungle Queen, given the right conditions, can bloom all the year round, and the bracts, with or without their white flowers, are much used in flower arrangements. Alpinia purpurata is also found in Samoa, where it is the national flower, and is locally called teuila.

Ornamental gingers in general are tropical plants. While some are very tropical, and will not grow outside the tropics or the warm subtropics unless in a greenhouse, others are surprisingly hardy and will do well further into the temperate zone. Many are grown just for their flowers, some of which are highly scented, although some are merely decorative. Others are grown solely as foliage plants. Gingers will adapt to full or partial sun. The plants will be shorter if grown in full sun, and taller the more shade they get. There are a few that will take deeper shade, but most like a reasonable amount of light. If grown for flowers, they will need as much light as possible.

Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008 - 20010
Page last updated 4th October 2018, 2018