Costus woodsonii (Red Button Ginger, Scarlet Spiral Flag, Red Cane, Panamanian Candle Ginger, Dwarf French Kiss)
This stunning and colourful plant that displays exotic and vibrant red torpedo-shaped inflorescences, rising above a sea of lush green foliage as if ready to be launched into space, is definitely an attention grabber and demands notice.
No wonder Costus woodsonii, is very much favoured as a decorative landscape and garden plant or container specimen. Like the Cheliocostus speciosus, another spectacular plant, it is becoming more and more popular in Malaysia in recent years. It is often planted at home gardens, recreational areas and parks, as well as in containers at entrances to hotels, restaurants and shopping malls.
Red Button Ginger, named thus because of its lovely flower head that comes forth as a luscious red button, is one of the robust spiral gingers in the Costus family that has more than 100 species.
It characteristically features leaves that are spirally arranged around the graceful and succulent stems.
An easy growing perennial herb that is a prolific bloomer year-round in warmer regions, Costus woodsonii will certainly be excellent for any landscape design or just to fill garden space with its captivating form and long-lasting inflorescences.
Plant Profile, Culture and Propagation :
- Botanical Name: Costus woodsonii (syn: Costus spiralis, Alpinia spiralis, Costus pisonis)
- Common Name: Red Button Ginger, Scarlet Spiral Flag, Red Cane, Panamanian Candle Ginger, Indian Head Ginger, Dwarf French Kiss, Dwarf Cone Ginger
- Family name: Costaceae (Costus family). Also placed in Zingiberaceae, the ginger family
- Etymology: Originally named Costus spiralis, the plant was renamed in 1972 by the Dutch botanist Paulus Johannes Maria Maas to honour Dr. Robert E. Woodson Jr. (1904-1963), who was the Curator of the Herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden and dedicated much of his life to the project of compiling the Flora of Panama.
- Origin: Native to Mesoamerica (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama) and Colombia in South America.
- Plant type: An ornamental perennial herb.
- Features: The vigorous-growing Costus woodsonii, an attractive species of the genus, Costus, can reach 1.5-2 m in height and spread about 1 m wide.
However, the cultivated plants are typically below 1 m in height, with a spread of 0.6 m, probably belonging to the dwarf cultivars, such as ‘Dwarf Lipstick’, ‘Red Button’ and ‘French Kiss’.
It is a perennial and evergreen herb that sends out leafy cane-like stems from its underground rhizomes. Being rhizomatous, it forms a decent clump in no time and presents a dramatic cluster with elegant stems in various stages of growth and flowering.
The broadly elliptical leaves (roughly up to 15cm long and 8 cm wide) with tapering tips are bright to dark green in colour, simple and entire, glossy and glabrous. As typical of spiral gingers, the leaves spiral around the thick green stems which are normally upright but may sometimes be leaning and gently spiraled, creating a dense appearance.
Red Button Ginger will flower profusely throughout the year in the tropics and other warmer regions. In fabulous contrast with the green foliage, lipstick-red inflorescences will appear at terminal stems. The flowering spike is made up of waxy red bracts, tightly overlapping like fish scales, to form an erect, cigar-shaped or torpedo-like flower head, 6-10 cm tall.
The true reddish-orange flowers with inconspicuous orange-yellow labellum are edible and will peek out one at a time from between the red bracts, lasting for only a day per flower. Surprisingly, it’s not the flowers but the waxy red bracts on the conical inflorescence that will secrete the sweet sugary fluid from its extrafloral nectaries, attracting ants that come to harvest the nectar and help protect the seeds from being destroyed by larvae of certain flies. Read an interesting article on the correlation between ants and seed production of Costus woodsonii. Fruits and seeds are sparingly developed.
Occasionally, plantlets will emerge from the base of a withered inflorescence and take root when the stem tip touches the ground.
- Culture (Care): The fuss-free Costus woodsonii grows easily with minimum care.
Light: Prefers filtered light to full sun. However, it can tolerate part shade to full shade but flowers best in warm and sunny locations.
Moisture: Water regularly and moderately. It enjoys a humid environment.
Soil: Prefers moist, fertile or humus-enriched and well-drained soil. It is salt-tolerant and known to grow well near the beach.
Others: Occasional misting is encouraged if the weather is too hot and dry. Costus woodsonii benefits from monthly feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer during the growing season. Remove withered flower heads to maintain neatness or let them be if you want plantlets to develop to get more plants. You can also prune off the whole stem with its spent flower head and subdivide into a few cuttings for propagation. Generally it is pest and disease free.
For subtropical and temperate regions: Hardiness: USDA Zone 9b-11. Grows well in tropical and subtropical climate. Cold tolerance down to 30°F (-1.1°C) with protection against frost. Though the plant can tolerate a light frost for short periods of time, it is advisable to mulch the roots heavily to protect plants from freezes or bring indoors to overwinter. Water and feed sparingly during the cold months and maintain temperatures above 50°F (10°C), otherwise it will not flower.
- Propagation: By rhizomes, division of clumps, plantlets, or stem cuttings. Plantlets that form around a withered inflorescence, can be severed and propagated as new plants.
- Usage: Grow Costus woodsonii to add beauty and charm in perennial beds and borders or as an exotic garden/landscape specimen. Its compact and small stature make it very ideal for container gardening or in raised planters to decorate homes, patios, decks, as well as entrances to hotels, shopping malls and other commercial buildings. Its eye-catching and long-lasting inflorescences will be splendid as cut flowers in floral arrangements and thus greatly valued in the floral industry.
Other external links:
- USDA-ARS GRIN Taxonomy
- Tropicos.org – Missouri Botanical Garden
- Gardino Nursery, Corp.
- Dave’s Garden