The ginger family, Zingiberaceae

Zingiberaceae Resource Centre

Revision of Globba

Revision of Etlingera

Revision of Amomum

Revision of Aframomum


Ph.D. theses written at Edinburgh

The ginger family, Zingiberaceae

Zingiberaceae is a family of 51 genera and c. 1200 species which are related to bananas, bird-of-paradise flowers and Canna lilies. They are found in all tropical forests but most occur between India and New Guinea.

Ginger, turmeric and cardamom are the most important economic species being grown in great quantities for international trade.

M.F. Newman now leads research on the gingers at the RBG but former colleagues first started to study the Zingiberaceae in the early 1960s when B.L. Burtt and P.J.M. Woods brought back material from Sarawak. Later R.M. Smith worked on this family until her retirement in 1993, producing accounts for Borneo, Australia and Bhutan as well as a new infrageneric classification of the largest genus Alpinia.

The Zingiberaceae Resource Centre

This is a searchable data base for taxonomists which has been built up at the RBGE with help from staff of Singapore Botanic Gardens. It contains information about scientific names and their type specimens, and also about herbarium collections which has been verified by specialists.


Mark Newman is working on revisions of Globba for the Flora of Thailand and Flore du Cambodge, du Laos et du Viêt Nam.

This genus may have as many as 100 species from Sri Lanka to Australia and is most diverse in continental SE Asia. The plants are usually small and most are deciduous, dying down to the rhizome during the dry season. The flowers are extremely delicate and often absent from herbarium specimens which makes classification difficult. We rely heavily on new collections and living material in botanic gardens.


Dr Axel Dalberg Poulsen, Peter Davis Research Fellow, is revising the genus Etlingera in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.


Vichith Lamxay, PhD student at Uppsala University, is revising Amomum in the Flore du Cambodge, du Laos et du Viêt Nam. This studentship is funded by a bilateral agreement between Sweden and the Lao P.D.R. Several species in this region are collected from the forests for their medicinal properties yet the trade is unregulated because no-one can be sure which species are most valuable or what to call them. To date, Vichith recognises c. 32 species in this area, including 5-7 new to science.

Jane Droop, PhD student of Aberdeen University, is revising Amomum in the Indonesian island of Sumatra where she has found c. 25 species, several of them new to science.

Amomum, as currently circumscribed, is among the largest genera in the family with over 200 species from Sri Lanka to New Guinea and Australia. Recent research shows clearly, however, that the genus is not monophyletic.

Preliminary phylogenetic studies show that the fruit type may be more important than was thought previously. Some species have smooth fruits while others have ridged, winged or spiny fruits.


David Harris, formerly Peter Davis Research Fellow and now Curator of the Herbarium, and Alexandra Wortley are revising Aframomum, the largest African genus of Zingiberaceae.

These plants are widespread in sub-saharan Africa. Most of the c. 70 species grow in forests but a few extend into the savanna. One of the widespread species is also found in Madagascar.

The plants spread very rapidly by long rhizomes, forming dense clumps. Their flowers are often borne near the ground, separate from the leafy shoots and, in most species, last no more than a day.

Many species have tasty, fleshy fruits which are eaten by people. The seeds of a few species are used as spice and are traded under the names "Melegueta Pepper" and "Grains of Paradise". It was for these seeds that the coast of Liberia and part of Sierra Leone was formerly called the Grain Coast.

The leafy shoots are an important part of the diet of herbivores such as gorillas and elephants.


Staff of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and their colleagues in other research institutes have been publishing work on Zingiberaceae for over 40 years. A list of these publications can be found here.

Ph.D. theses on Zingiberaceae undertaken at RBGE

Dr. Achariya Rangsiruji (Kai)
Department of Biology
Faculty of Science
Srinakharinwirot University
Email: achariya@swu.ac.th
Telephone: +66 2 664 0410/7 ext 8111
Fax: +66 2 260 0128

A study of the infrageneric classification of Alpinia Roxb. (Zingiberaceae) using molecular data. University of Edinburgh, 1999.

Publications arising from the thesis:

Rangsiruji, A., M.F. Newman & Q.C.B. Cronk (2000) A study of the infrageneric classification of Alpinia Roxb. (Zingiberaceae) based on the ITS region of nuclear rDNA and the trnL-F spacer of chloroplast DNA. In K.L. Wilson & D.A. Morrison (eds.), Monocots: Systematics and Evolution. CSIRO, Melbourne.

Rangsiruji, A., M.F. Newman & Q.C.B. Cronk (2000) Origin and relationships of Alpinia galanga (Zingiberaceae) based on molecular data. Edinburgh J.Bot. 57: 9-37.

Dr. Chatchai Ngamriabsakul (Nok)
School of Biology
Institute of Science
Walailak University
222 Thaiburi
Nakhon Si Thammarat
Email: nchatcha@wu.ac.th

The systematics of the Hedychieae (Zingiberaceae) with emphasis on Roscoea Sm. University of Edinburgh, 2001.

Publications arising from the thesis:

Ngamriabsakul, C., Newman, M.F. & Cronk, Q.C.B. (2000) Phylogeny and disjunction in Roscoea (Zingiberaceae). Edinburgh J. Bot. 57 (1): 39-61.

Ngamriabsakul, C., Newman, M.F. (2000) A new species of Roscoea Sm. (Zingiberaceae) from Bhutan. Edinburgh J. Bot. 57(2): 271-278.

Dr. Marlina Ardiyani
Herbarium Bogoriense
Jalan Ir. H. Juanda 22
PO Box 110
Bogor 16122

Systematic study of Curcuma L.: turmeric and its allies. University of Edinburgh, 2003.

Classification of Curcuma: a morphological and molecular study. M.Sc. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1997.

M.F. Newman now leads research on the family.

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