Scientifically known as Zingiber zerumbet, the shampoo ginger lily is a very striking tropical plant that makes a bold statement. Its bright colors and distinctive shape are truly beautiful and aren’t quite replicated by any other plant. This ginger is native to Southeast Asia, where it is widely cultivated for its ornamental and medicinal uses. In this article, we’ll look at how you can start growing this gorgeous plant in your own home.
What’s In a Name?
The plant gets its common name, shampoo ginger, due to the traditional use of its rhizomes. When squeezed or crushed, they produce a fragrant, milky, soapy liquid that has been used as a natural shampoo for the hair.
Aside from its cosmetic use, the ginger lily is thought to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antifungal properties. As such, its rhizomes are traditionally used to treat arthritis, stomachaches, and skin infections.
The ginger lily is notably interwoven in the lives of residents in Hawaii, where the climatic conditions are perfect for its growth. Here, natives call it Awapuhi Kuahiwi, but it is also known by other names, such as bitter ginger and pinecone ginger. However, if you’re from India, it’s known as Avanti.
Soil and Container
For shampoo ginger lilies, the soil should be well-drained and fertile. Aim for a moist, humus-rich composition with a slightly acidic to neutral pH, ideally ranging from 5.7 to 8.0. Most commercial potting soils will work fine.
Try to keep them in soil with a loamy texture, which consists of a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay. Loamy soil retains moisture without becoming overly saturated and allows for adequate airflow around the roots.
It’s important to strike a balance where the soil retains enough water without getting waterlogged. When planting, make sure to position the rhizomes just below the soil surface.
For containers, look for one that promotes good drainage. Most should come with drainage holes, and you should absolutely add some if yours doesn’t. In terms of size, look for, at a minimum, about 6” across. Larger containers will let you grow more flowers.
Propagation and Planting
When it comes to expanding your shampoo ginger lily collection, propagation through rhizome division is the way to go. During their dormant season around late winter or early spring, divide the rhizomes carefully, ensuring each division has viable buds or growing points. You can also buy planting-ready rhizomes if you lack a plant to take divisions from.
Once you’ve cut and divided your shampoo ginger, plant these divisions in your container and soil. Place them just below the surface of the soil, and water generously to moisten the soil.
Shampoo ginger lilies fancy bright, indirect light, or partial shade. While they can handle a bit of morning sun, it’s wise to shield them from intense afternoon rays.
The sweet spot lies in finding a location where they receive filtered sunlight or enjoy partial shade throughout the day. An east or western-facing window is a good choice as these tend to get indirect light during the day. If you notice sun damage on your plant move them back a few inches to reduce intensity or add a sheer curtain to achieve the same effect.
Watering and Feeding
To keep shampoo ginger lilies happy regular watering is essential. The goal is to maintain consistently moist soil without causing waterlogging. They thrive in a moist environment, especially during active growth phases, but they can still get too much of a good thing.
Make sure to water the plants whenever the upper layer of soil is dry, around an inch or so deep. The goal is to give them enough water to thoroughly moisten the root area without going overboard and saturating the soil. Once you see water leaking from the container’s drainage holes you’ve watered enough.
When you do water, go for a gentle and slow-drip approach. This way, the water can seep deep down into the soil, encouraging the roots to grow deeper and keeping the plants healthy. Avoid watering from above and soaking the flowers because this can cause fungal issues and might not reach the root zone effectively.
To feed, use an organic fertilizer every 3-4 weeks. I personally like to use a slow-release fertilizer, which can usually cover an entire growing season. This lets me “set and forget” my plants, at least as far as fertilizer is concerned.
Temperature & Humidity
Shampoo ginger lilies are at their prime in warm, tropical to subtropical climates. They thrive when temperatures hover between a cozy 60°F to 90°F range. Remember, they have a low tolerance for frost and chilly conditions, so be sure to shield them during winter if you live in cooler regions. Ideally, temperatures should not drop below 50F to ensure their survival.
These remarkable plants truly relish high humidity levels, particularly in drier climates. You can pamper them by misting their leaves or placing a nearby humidifier to create an ideal environment. Another trick is to group several plants together, which naturally increases the humidity for their collective benefit. You can also check out our humidity-boosting guide.
Shampoo ginger lilies aren’t too demanding when it comes to pruning. Simply stay vigilant and remove any unsightly dead or damaged leaves or stems that might compromise their appearance or health. Feel free to do this as needed throughout the year, keeping the plants in tip-top shape. Outside of this standard cleanup, there’s no need to prune or trim this plant.
Although primarily grown for ornamental purposes, shampoo ginger lilies have an additional aromatic bonus, which is their rhizomes. When the plant is dormant, usually during late winter or early spring, it’s harvest time.
With care, dig up the rhizomes, give them a gentle wash, and then crush them to extract the fragrant liquid. This precious liquid can be employed as a natural shampoo or for various cosmetic applications.
There are many varieties of this plant, each with its own unique characteristics. The varieties differ slightly in terms of flower color, size, and growth habits but have similar growing needs. Here are a couple of popular ones. Bear in mind that some of the height estimates are for outdoor-grown plants. When grown indoors, they will typically be a bit smaller.
Zingiber zerumbet “Darceyi”
This shampoo ginger variety is known for its striking red bracts and white flowers. Growing up to a height from three to five feet, this variety is beloved for its contrasting colors that create a visually appealing display in many homes.
Zingiber zerumbet “Shell Ginger”
Also referred to as Alpinia zerumbet, this variety has pink bracts with yellow flowers. The bracts have a shell-like appearance, hence the name. This variety normally grows from six to ten feet tall, making a wonderful attractive short hedge for many gardens.
Zingiber zerumbet “Awapuhi”
“Awapuhi” features highly fragrant white flowers with yellow bracts. It grows to a height of three to six feet tall in areas that need some color and a lot of mesmerizing tropical scent.
Zingiber zerumbet “Dancing Ladies”
This variety is noted for its unique, pendulous flowers that resemble dancing ladies in skirts. The bracts are usually pale yellow or cream-colored, with yellow or white flowers. This variety grows to a height of four to six feet, making it a great option for a low green border.
Zingiber zerumbet “Awapuhi Kuahiwi”
Often associated with Hawaiian life, this variety has greenish-yellow bracts and white flowers. Sometimes called the wild ginger, this one is smaller compared to its cousins, reaching a height of about two to three feet.
Growing Shampoo Ginger Lily Indoors
If you’re looking to bring the tropics back to where you live, then you can always grow the shampoo ginger lily wherever you are. Outdoors or indoors, this striking plant will always be one of the easiest and most attractive plants you can ever get to grow. Plus, you can always harvest the rhizome for some natural shampoo!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take for shampoo ginger lilies to bloom?
Patience is key when it comes to shampoo ginger lilies and their blooming timeline. Typically, it takes around one to two years for these beauties to reach maturity and grace us with their first splendid blooms. Once they hit maturity, they tend to flaunt their colors during the warmer months of the year. Do keep in mind that the exact timing can vary depending on the specific variety and growing conditions.
Are shampoo ginger lilies invasive?
Shampoo ginger lilies have the potential to spread and establish themselves in favorable growing conditions, particularly in tropical regions. However, they don't raise the invasive alarm bells too loudly. If you’re growing in containers then this isn’t a concern at all. They usually form clumps and expand gradually, rather than going on a wild takeover spree. Nevertheless, it's always wise to keep an eye on their growth and prevent them from encroaching into natural habitats where they could potentially outcompete native species.
Do shampoo ginger lilies attract bees or other pollinators?
Absolutely! Shampoo ginger lilies are a bee magnet and are loved by other pollinators too. With their vibrant colors and alluring fragrance, these flowers are a buzzing hotspot for our winged friends. Having them around can work wonders for pollination in your garden, contributing to a thriving ecosystem.
Are shampoo ginger lilies toxic to pets or humans?
Shampoo ginger lilies are generally safe for both pets and humans. They are considered non-toxic, which means you don't have to worry about accidental snacking from curious nibblers at home. However, it's wise to be cautious and prevent pets or children from nibbling on the leaves or flowers of any plant. If you ever notice any unusual reactions or have specific concerns, it's best to consult with a veterinarian or seek advice from a medical professional. Eating them can still cause upset stomachs despite their non-toxic classification.