Tropical Flowering Trees and Vines
Heliconia, Gingers and Bananas
Zingiberales in FTBG
Alpinia – This genus is the largest in the ginger family with over 150 species. This genus has plants which are attractive as foliage plants and many species are valued for their large showy inflorescences. The size varies from 1 to 30’, but most are from 5 to 10’ tall. Most Alpinias are native to southeast Asia, New Guinea, tropical Australia and some of the Pacific islands.
Amomum - This genus is the second largest in the ginger family with over 100 described species. Most are quite large in size. Species of Amomum are native to tropical Australia, China, Southeast Asia and some of the Pacific islands.
Boesenbergia – This genus is made up mostly of small gingers, generally less than 3’ tall. Most are grown as foliage plants. Many of these species go dormant during the winter. Members of this genus are native to areas of Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Borneo.
Burbidgea – This genus has only a few described species. Most are very small. Some of the species are epiphytic. Members of this genus are native to Borneo.
Calathea – Members of this genus are in the Marantaceae family. Most species are grown for their attractive foliage which is colorful, with interesting patterns and usually a solid color on the underside of their leaves.
Canna – Members of this genus are in the Cannaceae family. Species are native to tropical and subtropical areas of North America, through Central America and the warm regions of South America. Some members of this genus are grown for their colorful flowers while other species have interesting, colorful leaves.
Costus – Members of this genus are in the Costaceae family. Members of this family are often referred to as spiral gingers due to the growth and arrangement of their inflorescences. Most Costus species are native to Central and South America with a few species native to Africa and southeast Asia. This genus is very popular with gardeners, having many species in cultivation. Costus are very popular as cut flowers. Species range from stemless to 20’ tall.
Curcuma – Members of this genus are in the Zingiberaceae family. Species may be either spring bloomers or summer bloomers. Those blooming in the spring often produce flowers before foliage appears. The summer blooming species have flowers which appear from the center of the plant, surrounded by foliage. Curcuma goes dormant during the winter. Many species are used as spices, food and medicinally. Turmeric is a species of Curcuma. Size of plants vary from 1 to 6’ tall.
Dimerocostus - Members of this genus are in the Costaceae family. Species are native to Central and South America. This genus has only a few described species. Most are tall, up to 15’.
Elettariopsis – Members of this genus are in the Zingiberaceae family. Species are native to southern China, New Guinea and Southeast Asia. Elettariopsis species are commonly found on the forest floor, often on forest litter, in moist and shady places. The leaves are produced on short stems with flowers on separate stems.
Etlingera – Members of this genus are in the Zingiberaceae family. Commonly known as ‘torch ginger’ they are widely grown for their large, attractive flowers which are produced on separate, shorter stems than their leafy stems which may grow to 20’. Etlingera are native to India, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Queensland, and several Pacific Islands.
Globba – Members of this genus are in the Zingiberaceae family. There are many species with most growing to 2’ tall or less. All have very showy flowers which are usually yellow. They go dormant during cooler temperatures. Species of Globba are native to India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and tropical Australia.
Hedychium – Members of this genus are in the Zingiberaceae family. Sometimes referred to as butterfly ginger, the inflorescences have butterfly-shaped flowers. This genus is native to Southeast Asia, China and the Himalayas. This is a very popular genus with showy, fragrant flowers. Plants will go dormant if exposed to temperatures below 60°.
Heliconia – Members of this genus belong to the Heliconiaceae family. Plants may range from 2’ to 15’ tall. The herbaceous stems produce inflorescences sometimes referred to as lobster claws. The flowers are produced on pendant or upright, strikingly colorful waxy bracts. Plants typically bloom during the rainy season. Species are native to Central and South America, the Amazon rainforest and some islands of the South Pacific.
Kaempferia – Members of this genus belong to the Zingiberaceae family. Species are often referred to as peacock gingers due to the colorful pattern of their leaves. Most species in this genus are small, less than 2’ tall. Plants go dormant during the winter months. Species are native to southern China, Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
Maranta – Members of this genus belong to the Marantaceae family. Beautifully colorful leaves are produced on short stems. They are often referred to as prayer plant due to the orientation of their leaves when at rest in darkness, a vertical position that makes them look like hands in prayer. In light, the leaves are held horizontally. Members of this genus are native to tropical Central and South America and the West Indies.
Monocostus – This genus has just one species – uniflorus. A member of the Costaceae family, Monocostus uniflorus is native to a very small region in Peru. This species produces a single, yellow flower from the upper portion of the stem. Plants are usually less than 2’ tall.
Musa – Members of this genus belong to the Musaceae family. This is one of the most economically important plants in the Zingiberales order – the source of bananas. Musa species are native to tropical Indomalaya and Australia, and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Plants may grow from 10’ to 25’ or more depending on the species.
Orchidantha – Members of this genus belong to the Lowiaceae family. Orchidantha species are native to Southeast Asia and some Pacific islands. Orchidantha leaves have longitudinal veins which are parallel to the leaf midrib, flowers that are often subterranean, and the modification of one petal into a large labellum similar to orchids. Plants are usually very small, under 3’ tall. Flowers usually have a disagreeable odor to attract flies for pollination. This is a very unusual genus.
Pleiostachya – Members of this genus belong to the Marantaceae family. They are considered attractive foliage plants with stems up to 10’ tall. Pleiostachya species are native to Mexico, Central America, Ecuador and Colombia.
Pleuranthodium – Members of this genus belong to the Zingiberaceae family. Species are native to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Australia and Sulawesi. Once believed to belong to the genus Alpinia, these were separated based on further studies. Plants usually grow in forested areas where their stems my grow 10’ to 15’.
Ravenala – This genus has just one species, madagascariensis. It is a member of the Strelitziaceae family. Ravenala madagascariensis is commonly known as traveler’s tree. Related to bird of paradise, the stem sheaths may hold rainwater for thirsty travelers. Native to moist forests of Madagascar, this is one of the tallest plants in the Zingiberales order, sometimes growing to 50’.
Siphonochilus – Members of this genus belong to the Zingiberaceae family. Species are native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is a forest floor plant with aromatic rhizomatous roots. The leaves are deciduous and sprout annually from the underground stem in spring. The leaves may reach a height of up to 3’. The individual flowers are large and showy.
Stahlianthus – Members of this genus belong to the Zingiberaceae family. Species are native to southern China, the Himalayas and Indochina. The plants are small and have cup-shaped inflorescences with white flowers. Most species go dormant during winter.
Strelitzia – Members of this genus belong to the Strelitziaceae family. Species are native to South Africa. Commonly called bird of paradise, the species vary from gigantic, growing to 45’ tall to species which grow to 6’ tall. Many are commonly used in the tropics and subtropics as ornamentals in gardens and landscapes.
Stromanthe – Members of this genus belong to the Marantaceae family. Species are native to Mexico, Central America, Trinidad and northern South America. This genus has colorful leaves and white to pale pink flowers. Temperatures below 60° can cause damage.
Tapeinochilus – Members of this genus belong to the Costaceae family. Species are native to New Guinea, Vanuatu and tropical Australia. Sometimes known as pineapple ginger or wax ginger, species have stems up to 8’ long with separate colorful, long lasting inflorescences on short, leafless stems.
Thalia – Members of this genus belong to the Marantaceae family. Species are native to southern United States and Mexico. It grows in marshy, wet habitats where it may reach 6’ to 10’ tall. The canna-like stems and foliage and separate too flowering stems create a large plant for wet areas.
Thaumatococcus – Members of this genus belong to the Marantaceae family. Species are native to central Africa. It may grow to 15’ tall, and has large, papery leaves up to 2’ long. It bears pale purple flowers and a soft fruit containing a few shiny black seeds.
Zingiber – Members of the genus belong to the Zingiberaceae family. This genus is native to Southeast Asia, China, India, and New Guinea. Important species include Zingiber officinale which is the well-known edible ginger, produced from the underground rhizome of the plant.
Dr. David Fairchild became interested in tropical bamboos when a visitor to his office brought some fresh bamboo shoots from a grove of Phyllostachys bambusoides near Savannah, Georgia, Dr. Fairchild was very impressed with the tasty bamboo shoots. After visiting this grove, Dr. Fairchild’s wealthy friend, Barbour Lathrop, purchased the property and donated it to the U.S.D.A. Twenty five years after this, the property under the management of the U.S.D.A. had 125 species of bamboo representing one of the largest collections of this plant group in the world.
Tropical Bamboo Collection – Fairchild’s tropical bamboo collection consists of plants representing six genera: Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Gigantochloa, Guadua, Neohouzeaua and Schizostachyum. The word ‘bamboo’ may alarm some people into thinking these amazing plants will take over the garden. Many temperate bamboos have a running or leptomorph type of rhizome growth. These kinds of bamboo have long, thin rhizomes that may grow 20’ in one season. Fortunately most of the tropical bamboos have a pachymorph rhizome system that expands only short distances each year. This type of growth creates a tight, compact clumping behavior.
Bambusa species are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Old World. Many of these species, due to their usefulness, have been distributed and cultivated throughout the tropics. Some species of Bambusa are moderately cold tolerant.
Dendrocalamus is a genus of tropical bamboos requiring a subtropical or tropical environment. Most species of this genus are from areas with high rainfall. Members of this genus are among the tallest growing bamboos with some reaching heights of 100’ or more. Our collection includes the tallest bamboo, Dendrocalamus giganteus.
Gigantochloa is a genus of tropical bamboos native to the Pacific Islands and Asia. They resemble Bambusa. Our collection includes Gigantochloa pseudoarundinacea which has attractive striped culms or stems. This species grows up to 100’ tall and produces delicious bamboo shoots, is quite ornamental and is a good candidate for production of paper pulp.
Guadua is a New World genus native to areas of Mexico through Uruguay and Argentina. Its habitat ranges from sea level to 7200’. Some species of Guadua have more of a running or leptomorph type of growth than the usual tropical pachymorph rhizome growth. One species in our collections, Guadua angustifolia, is the largest of all the New World bamboos, growing to 100’ or more in areas receiving high rainfall and tropical temperatures. Their stems, highly resistant to rot or insect attack, are commonly used in construction of homes.
Neohouzeaua is a genus of medium sized bamboos native to Southeast Asia. Our Neohouzeaua mekongensis, has a very tight clumping habit with stems to 35’ tall. It is native to Vietnam.
Schizostachyum is an Old World genus of bamboo from areas of southern China through Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It has a clumping or pachymorph rhizome system with stems or culms which are thin-walled and light in weight. Stems are used for rafts, roofing, water containers and musical instruments. Our Schizostachyum brachycladum green form, native to southern China and the Asian-Pacific, has green stems.
Michaux Bahamas Collection
In 1963, John Popenoe became director of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Shortly after being named director, he received a substantial five-year grant from the American Philosophical Society to establish a collection of the native woody plants of the Bahamas. The money for the project came from the Michaux Fund of the American Philosophical Society. This fund was established over a hundred and fifty years ago by Andre Michaux, a French botanist who collected plants in the Bahamas in 1789.
There were three purposes of establishing this collection at Fairchild. Some of these plants are extremely rare in the Bahamas and found nowhere else. There is the possibility that some of these plants might become extinct if they are not propagated and maintained in a botanical collection. A second reason for establishing this collection at the Garden is to have available a complete collection of these plants for scientists who wish to study the woody flora of the Bahamas. The third reason is to evaluate the plants for horticultural purposes. Valuable material from the collection will gradually be made available to the members of the Garden and the horticultural industry of South Florida.
Dozens of collecting trips were made to obtain material for eventual planting in Plot 164 or 166, the designated Bahama plots. More than 125 species were collected and planted in the plots during the five years funded by the grant. At the same time there was a desire to sponsor the preparation of a modern, illustrated Flora of the Bahama Islands that would update the 1920 publication by Britton and Millspaugh.
In 1973, Dr. Donovan and Helen Correll joined the research staff of Fairchild. With the assistance of Priscilla Fawcett, FTBG staff artist, the Corrells’ worked for eight years to produce the Flora of the Bahama Archipelago. The 670-mile archipelago includes thirty-five islands and over 700 cays and an estimated 2,400 exposed ‘rocks’ that may vary in size to as much as several acres, all of which have some type of vegetation. The Corrells’ visited as many sites as possible at various times throughout the year, to insure collection and observation of both flowers and fruit. More than one hundred exploratory trips were made and over 10,000 botanical collections obtained over a seven year period. This work was partially supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. Priscilla Fawcett drew botanical illustrations representing an example of every genus found in the Bahamas. The flora of the Bahamas is represented by 660 genera in 144 families. There are 1,371 species of which about nine percent are endemic to the islands. During their work on the flora, 16 species new to science were described and nearly 300 species and a dozen genera were added to the known flora of the Archipelago.
The plants growing in plots 164 and 166 represent just a small portion of the flora of the Bahamas. In recent years, additional botanical expeditions have been made to these islands. Today, these plots include 115 species which are native to the Bahamas.