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Introduction to CurcumaTo get a bold-textured tr opical look in a warm temperate garden, there is a short list of perennials that fit the bill. One of my favorites is the little-known but amazing genus Curcuma . Curcuma, or hidden cone gingers, is a genus of mostly tropical plants known fo r their dramatic bold foliage and flamboyant floral show. Curcuma can range in h eight from just under 2' to over 7' tall. The slightly hidden flowers resemble p sychedelic pinecones...a nice trip back to the 1960s. We urge our readers to vis it the garden on our Open House Days in summer and fall to see our curcuma colle

they will lose their leaves and stop flowering. because they are composed of long. slowing down Alzheimer's disease. Siam tulip. The florets are white. MorphologyCurcuma is a deciduous herbaceous perennial with thick. b ut bitter vegetable. Their "st ems" are not true stems. which includes many useful herbs and ornamental plants. but well-drained. Indian saffron. The fi rst two names refer to its use as a spice and the name "hidden lily" refers to t he fact that some species have short inflorescences that are obscured by the lea ves. This roughly corresponds to t he winter/summer cycle in temperate gardens. and hidden lily. Cu rcuma have flower spikes that arise from the top of the pseudostem or sometimes on a separate stem directly from the rhizome. then sit back and enjoy later in your garden. The leaves.. the re is tremendous growth potential in this market as well. depending on the species. and are also used to combat flatulence. or multicolored. Curcuma longa rhiz omes are dried and ground into the spice turmeric which gives curry powder its d istinct color and odor. green. One of the reasons that curcumas have never reached a high level of popul arity is that they haven't begun to sprout during the spring garden center seaso n. Canna. of course.ction. Although Curcuma come from warm parts of the world. The florets are held lower down on t he spike amongst less-showy bracts.warm. can be solid green. variegated. which are simi lar to a canna. they go through a dormant period in which the plants die back to the rhizome and then a re slow to re-emerge in the spring. Curcumas need heat to trigger flowering and thus do well in warm climates su ch as the Southeast US. and relieving pain. Curcuma zedoaria rhizomes are eaten as a spicy. burgundy. pink or orange in color and the bracts can be a variety of colors including white. organically-rich. slig . wet and well fed in the summer. Flowering may occur early in the g rowing season.Taxonomy Curcuma belong to the ginger family Zingiber aceae. Curcumas are plants that you must purchase as a leap of faith. Curcuma are commonly known by a number of common names. The spice has several purported medicinal uses including lowering blood pressure. Southern China. Hist ory of Ethnobotanical and Economic usesCultivated for more than 4000 years. but actually pseudostems. and c ool and dry in the winter. Curcuma amada rhizomes are eaten fresh and used as both anti-inflammatory medicines and contraceptives. Australia and the Pacific Islands. interlocked leaf petioles from which the leaves arise.move over Beano®! Oil s from Curcuma are used in perfumes and. In mild climates (like Great Britain) Curcuma may grow w ell but never bloom. spice. but because of this. All the genera in the family Zingiberaceae have food storage rhizomes with a "gingery" or "lemony" scent. Ginger expert.. and Kaempferia (torch-ginger) . The genus Curcuma c onsists of between 80 and 117 species of medium-sized plants. just before the leaves unfurl or along with them late in the grow ing season. branched rhizomes. says "treat them to monsoon conditions . Pseudost ems with clasping leaves are common in this group of plants and can also be seen in both canna and bananas. The name Curcuma was coined by Carl L innaeus and refers to the Arabic word "kurkum" which is their name for the yello wish color of the root. ginger (from Zingiber officinalis). The rhizome is also a source of a dark yellow dye used in cosmetics and food col oring. Tony Schilling. the actual flowers are not the featured attraction. pink. The bracts near the top of the spike are c olorful and showy. but some species extend to the Himalayas. Moist. curc uma rhizomes have been a source of food. yellow. many curcumas are grown as c ut flowers." If you let your Curcuma get too dry. Like poinsettias. The overall effect is that of a technicolored pineco ne. which go dormant before curcumas emerge. The gingers are more distantly related to other common ornamental plants such as Musa (bananas). Their center of di versity is in southeast Asia. zedoary. Many gardeners assume that they have lost th eir plants but are relieved to see them finally emerge in June and July when the soil temperatures heat up. and Maranta. Curcuma emerge during the monsoon season a nd are triggered to become dormant by dry weather. and medicine. yellow. succulent. including turmeric. or have a red central blotch. All Zingiberaceae share a comm on trait in that their flowers produce just one true stamen. Heliconia. As gardeners discover that many of the species are winter hardy. they can be interplanted with spring bulbs such as daffo dils. The spice. Important ornamental cousins include Alpinia (Shell Ginger). is the best known and most widely used. CultureIn their native habitats. fleshy. but do not have florets.

C urcuma also make great potted plants. but more is b etter. where it forms slowly multiplyin g clumps in the moist woodlands. starting in e arly September. with slugs and snails being the worst. although the rh izomes will eventually grow to the depth that best suits them. Curcuma domestica) is one of the toughest cu rcumas that we grow. The seed may take s everal months of warm temperatures to germinate... keep in mind that if you divide th e plants when they are too small.. Cut off all of the in fected parts of the rhizome. Curcuma are not bothered by many pests. with flower stalks being produced from late spring into October (NC). (Hard iness Zone 7b-11)Curcuma myanmarensis (Burma Pink Hidden Cone Ginger) (aka: Smit hatris myanmarensis) is an amazingly hardy and floriferous hidden cone ginger. the central stalk is adorned by two light green leaves. Seed should be collected as the seed pods open in the l ate fall and must be surface sown (don't cover) immediately. C urcuma myanmarensis hails from Burma (Myanmar). leading t o the current assumption that most plants in the trade are hybrids. mealy bugs and spider mites may become a problem. you may cut back the stems and compost them or leave them alone and t he stems will detach from the rhizomes naturally. Potted specimens require lots of water (daily or even more frequently) w hen they are active and root-bound. open shade. In the wil d. specific curcuma pollinators are also present that are not present in the tem perate garden. however. they are relat ively easy to germinate. If you cut open a rhizome and find brown flesh with white specks your plant probably has root rot. leave 3-5 eyes (the creamy pointy things) per division. In the garden. canna-shaped green leaves compose the giant 6' tal l clump.Curcuma elata (Spring Hidden Cone Ginger) has stood out in our trials as one of the finest cold-climate garden specimens in the genus Curc uma. After frost kills the tops. Recent genetic work in curcumas is showing that many of the plants which we think of a s species are actually ancient sterile hybrids. so don't exp ect to see any seed unless you have access to wild collected species. Cultivars. then topped by a terminal 18" tall stalk that ends in a short pink torch. Curcuma myanmarensis is the longest flowering ginger that we g row. gardeners will need to re-pot the plants often because the thick rhizomes quickly grow large enough to split open a pot. with colorful pinecones that are nestled among the leaves. lift and store the rhizomes inside in a box of sawdust or peat moss (to prevent desiccation) where the temperatures stay above freezing. Pests and Diseases (Ginger ailments)Luckily.htly acidic soils produce the best flowering. 35ºN latitude). The huge. In containers or in a soil that is too dry. this is the earliest curcuma to flower. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10 at l east)Curcuma longa (Turmeric) (syn. Curcuma prefer sun for at least a couple of hours. when th e 1' tall pinecone-like spikes sprout from the base of the plant. If you manage to actually get seed. In old plantings. and Hybrids Below is a list of some of the interesting species and cultivars that have been successful at Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Gardens. The first symptom is the browning and loss of the top few leaves on the stem. Species. In doing so. place the rh izomes 4-6" below the surface to give them some cold protection. Thus curcuma will not set seed in the garden unless you hand poll inate them during the summer.We have also found that curcumas will perform best if lifted and divided every 5 years i n order to maintain their vigor. mid-June in NC. Propagation Most curcumas are sterile. At a minimum. When re-planting. dust the remaining healthy parts with sulfur powder and replant in a new location.especially on the unfurling leaves. a fungal di sease called mushroom root rot may occur. bold-textured. The 3' tall pleated green leaves are adorned. (Hardiness Zone 8-10 guessing)Curcuma ornata (Or nate Hidden Cone Ginger) has a tropical appearance in the border or in a color b . We recommend planting at least 6" deep if your soils are p rone to freezing in the winter. Curcu ma myanmarensis is an easy-to-grow sister to the more difficult and less hardy C urcuma alismatifolia. but most species will also do fine in high. they may not flower for a couple of years. For us. There ar e many more possibilities available for gardeners from Zone 8b and south. In climates where the curcumas aren't winter hardy. .that work continues while we st rive to find species that tolerate our central North Carolina climate (Hardiness Zone 7b. Each flower sp ike is topped with bright pink bracts which serve as mini-umbrellas for the yell ow flowers that poke from the side of the cone below. Dividing is best done in spring or summer.

. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10 guessing)Curcuma petiolata 'Emperor' (Striped Hidden Cone Ginger) Thi s Tim Chapman introduction from Thailand makes an easy-to-grow. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)Curcuma zedoar ia 'Bicolor Wonder' (Bicolor Hidden Cone Ginger) was selected for its attractive bicolor flowering bracts.especially since it has survived 0 degrees F in our garden. each with a dramatic whi te border.. making an upward growing small clump. resembling oversized '60s psychedelic red-and-yellow pinecones on 1' scapes. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)Curcuma zedoaria (Hidden Cone Ginger) is a spectacular ginger that garners all the attention from our visitors. This is the only known variegated curcuma. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10) . wide. tropical looking leaves (10" long by 6" w ide) that form a 3' tall clump.owl. tropical-looking gr een leaves (2' long by 5" wide) have a dramatic. The hidden pinecone-like flowers of light pink are a ttractive for nearly a month in June.solid white except for purple fingernail-sized tips on the end of each bract. The 6' tall. aspidistra-like foliage. 2' tall by 2' wi de clump of pleated green leaves (18" long by 6" wide). The large.. (Hardines s Zone 7b-10)HybridsCurcuma 'Pink Plush' (Pink Plush Hidden Cone Ginger) This is a wonderful Tom Wood hybrid. topp ed with long-lasting 8" flower "cones. The foliage grows out of a short underground rhi zome. the 18" long by 8" wide pleated green leaves naturally fold away from the fl owers unlike many of the other curcumas. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)Curcuma zedoaria 'Pink Wonder' (Pink Wonde r Hidden Cone Ginger) The foliage of this selection resembles a fancy aspidistra on steroids. purple-red stripe down th eir centers. Each textured green leaf has the same fabulous reddish purple stripe down the center. Each plant makes a clump to 3 ' (taller in warmer climates) by 2-3' wide. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)Curcuma zedoaria 'Wh ite Wonder' (White Wonder Hidden Cone Ginger) The 5' tall pleated green leaves. In addition to the larger leaves and larger stature of the clump. emerges in mid-June alongside the pinecone-like inflorescence. with a mar oon stripe down the leaf center. S o far. this has survived 8 degrees F with no protection. The flowers resemble purple pinecone s and are formed in the middle of the clump from mid-to late summer. As the leaves emerge. and for the rest of the growing season you will adore the tropical foliage. In early summer..6' tall green leaves with a central burgundy stripe. exc ept that the leaf is much larger: 28" long and 8" wide. bold. The flowers on this selection emerge like pinecones on separate 1' tall stems alongside the foliage. ador ned by the cone-shaped flowers which are nestled about 2' off the ground in Sept ember. which resembles Curcuma zedoaria. (Hardiness Zone 8-10 at least)Curcuma ' Summer Snow' (Hidden Cone Ginger) The green leaves only reach 3' in height. As a backgrou nd. It has survived 0 de grees F in our garden with no protection. each highlighted by a central purple stripe.. without the maroon stripe are adorned in fall with pure white "cones". The 30" tall clump is composed of long green leave s." dipped in pink and yellow. Curcuma 'Pink Wonder' was selected for inflorescences that are white at the base and bright pink on the top. The clumps are adorned with 1' t all stalks of lovely pink pinecone-like flowers from late August into October. Curcu ma 'Sulee Sunshine' has come through two mild winters (15ºF) in our garden. Curcuma ornata has a reddish pur ple cast to the lower stem. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10 guessing)Curcuma pet iolata (Hidden Cone Ginger) has large. you will enjoy the pinecone-like flower of purple and green at the base. so do the flowers. This sp lendid selection flowers for us from August through October with 9" stalks. Developed for the tropical cut flower market. (Hardiness Zone 8-11)Cu rcuma 'Sulee Sunshine' (Sulee Sunshine Hidden Cone Ginger) is a hybrid from Thai land breeder Annop Ongsakul. It's hard to beat this Asian species.. but in colder climates it makes a grea t house plant.