We know of the common ginger root, often used to spice up a dish. But did you know there’s a type of ginger known for its humongous flowers AND edible buds? Meet the one and only Torch Ginger!
Torch Ginger is a perennial flowering plant often grown for its flowers. They are used for decorative purposes, but the flower buds are typically used in Southeast Asian cuisine to flavor dishes. However, due to its demanding tropical needs, it’s difficult to cultivate this plant in cool climates.
Below, I talk more about this plant in detail, along with care tips to grow it:
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Table of contents
What is Torch Ginger or Bunga Kantan?
It’s a tropical ginger plant belonging to the Zingiberaceae family. It is known for growing torch-like flowers as tall as 15-20 feet in the wild. The plant is also known as ‘The Philippine Wax Flower’, ‘Torch Lily’, and ‘Ginger Flower’, but its scientific name is ‘Etlinger Elatior’. Fun fact: ‘Bunga’ is the Malay word for ‘flower’!
Torch ginger grows quickly in warm and humid conditions. The plant can take up as much as 15 feet of space, aggressively spreading its seeds and rhizomes, i.e., tuberous roots. Because of this tendency, they are considered invasive in some parts of the world, like Hawaii, Costa Rica, and China. So, if you plan to plant Torch ginger in your backyard, check whether it is allowed in your local area first. You can also plant them in a 3-gallon container and keep them in a greenhouse to err on the side of caution. Torch ginger prefers some shade, if your greenhouse is slightly shady, this plant is a good choice.
Due to its fussy needs, it’s hard to grow Torch ginger indoors as a houseplant, especially in cool climates like in USDA hardiness zones 9 and below. Even if they manage to develop, they’ll likely have stunted growth with little to zero chances of blooming. But if you have a heated greenhouse, it may be possible to grow it all year round.
Torch ginger flowers often come in shades of pink, but there are also red and white cultivars. Due to their gorgeous look, people often use them as cut flowers in floral arrangements. But in Southeast Asia, various parts of the plant, like the stem, the fruit, and especially the buds, are often used as a cooking ingredient. Another similar-looking plant with edible buds, just like the Torch ginger, is the Myoga ginger.
Is Myoga Ginger the Same as Torch Ginger?
Torch Ginger is a different plant from Myoga Ginger, but both belong to the same Zingiberaceae family. Here’s a table showing the distinctions between the two plants:
|Torch GingerMyoga GingerThrives in tropical climate; USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11.||Thrives in temperate climate; USDA hardiness zones 7-10, even 5 & 6!|
|Low cold-tolerance.||It’s cold-tolerant.|
|Torch ginger blooms readily flower and fruit, producing seeds.||Myoga ginger flowers are sterile and don’t produce seeds.|
|Torch ginger is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine.||Myoga ginger is often used as a cooking ingredient in Japanese and Korean dishes.|
|Torch ginger is available all year round.||Myoga ginger is only available seasonally every year.|
|The flavor profile is sweet & sour with a citrus-y taste.||The flavor profile is mild with a peppery and subtle onion taste.|
Despite their differences, the common thing these two plants share is that they are often eaten for their flower buds and not the roots themselves. If you’d like to know more about Myoga ginger, you can read all about it in this ‘How to Plant & Grow Myoga Ginger’ article.
Torch Ginger Care 101
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to grow this plant:
- Sun: Full sun in the morning, ensuring the plant is shaded from the afternoon glare to prevent burn damage to the leaves.
- Soil: Slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, and well-draining soil. The plant can grow in any soil type so long as it doesn’t get waterlogged.
- Water: Weekly watering after 1-2 inches of the soil’s surface dries out.
- Fertilizer: Monthly feeding from spring to fall using a high Potassium fertilizer. Additionally, you can add compost to the soil for extra slow-release nutrients.
- Temperature: 50°F and above. Anything below will impede the plant’s growth.
- Humidity: 60-70% humidity levels.
- Prune: Trim off old and broken parts of the plant, including shoots that grow at the bottom. You can also cut the plant back to keep it short.
- Propagate: You can make more of this plant by dividing the rhizomes/tuberous roots or growing the seeds. However, the former is more manageable and benefits the parent plant in preventing overcrowding in the same pot. You can find the instructions on dividing the roots in this ‘Ultimate Propagation’ article.
- Repot: Repot every 2-3 years after the flower has started blooming into a larger container. Balance this with regular pruning and root division to keep the plant maintained at a smaller size.
- Pest & Disease Check: This plant generally does not suffer from much infestation/infection. But check your Torch ginger once a week to be sure. Have a look at this ‘Common Houseplant Pests & Disease’ article to learn more about what you should be watching out for.
- Flower Care: It takes 2+ years before any blooms appear. But if the plant has yet to produce any, it may need more sun. Ensure to also deadhead or remove spent blooms to encourage more flowers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Torch Ginger
Torch ginger differs from the common ginger root because of its distinct flavor profile and edible parts. Torch ginger is eaten for its flower buds and stems. It has a prominent citrus taste and is often used in seafood dishes in Southeast Asia. However, the common ginger is from the root of the plant, is used everywhere, and is well-known for its spicy and warm taste.
Torch ginger is edible, and Southeast Asian cuisine commonly uses its flower buds, stems, and fruits to flavor dishes. Additionally, the fully bloomed flower is also often used for decorative purposes. There’s no particular danger associated when consuming the plant.
Torch ginger flower buds taste citrusy with a mixture of sweet and sour. It is often used to flavor seafood dishes in Southeast Asia but can also be eaten raw or used as a garnish. Apart from the flower buds, the stems, and fruits are also edible.
Torch ginger is challenging to grow indoors as a houseplant due to its need for high humidity and warm temperatures. Even if they manage to grow, they are likely to be short-lived with no chances of blooming. However, growing them in large 3-gallon containers in a heated greenhouse may be a possible option.
Torch ginger is a perennial plant that grows back annually without fail, provided it gets the best care and isn’t subjected to frost or freezing temperatures. Most of the time, the plant spreads its rhizomes and seeds readily. So even if it dies back, more dormant roots in the ground are waiting to develop.
Due to its fast growth rate, torch ginger can grow as tall and/or wide as 15 feet. It has even become invasive in Costa Rica, China, and Hawaii. This is why starting one in your garden may not be a good idea unless you restrict it to a 3-gallon or larger-sized container.
Remove damaged and old branches, foliage, and flowers of the plant. Sometimes, you may even trim them to keep them small. It’s also best done with root division simultaneously to prevent overcrowding the plant in its same pot.
Overall, Torch ginger is one of many curious edible plants to try one day. It may be trickier to grow in your container garden, but if you manage to pull it off, you can expect plenty of harvest throughout the year. Happy planting!
- Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm. (n.d.). Worldfloraonline.org. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from http://worldfloraonline.org/taxon/wfo-0000415565
- Etlingera elatior – Plant Finder. (n.d.). Www.missouribotanicalgarden.org. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=291516&isprofile=1&basic=torch%20ginger
- Etlingera elatior (torch ginger). (n.d.). Www.cabi.org. https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/109802#tosummaryOfInvasiveness
- Ornamental Gingers – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (n.d.). Gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/ornamental-gingers.html
- Plant database entry for Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior) with 21 images and 18 data details. (n.d.). Garden.org. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://garden.org/plants/view/92421/Torch-Ginger-Etlingera-elatior/