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 RBGE.  Taxonomic study of the Zingiberaceae began 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.


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.

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