Grown as a root crop and used in herbal remedies, the curcuma are also ornamental writes Stephanie Choo
The Curcuma species are extraordinary gingers. They are known as Hidden Cone Gingers or Hidden Lilies due to their blooms that are often out of sight because of their foliage. They add bold textures and specks of bright colour to the garden. Some are used as aromatic spices, others as vegetables and some, as medicinal plants.
Curcuma spp. (there are about 100) are native to warm and humid environments of the Indo-Malayan region and widely distributed in the tropics of Asia, Africa and also Australia. They produce elegant broad green leaves and sporadically bear gorgeous spiked inflorescences in bright red, white, pink, orange or yellow. Small flowers emerge from the lower bracts.
Curcuma is a genus of flowering plants in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. The name Curcuma comes from the Arabic word kurkum, which means turmeric. The genus comprises rhizomatous herbaceous perennials of ornamental plants and is economically important. Some varieties are specially cultivated for use as cut flowers.
Curcuma amada, C. zedoaria, C. augustifolia, C. roscoeana, C. petiolata and C. alismatifolia are popular ornamental species. The first two species are mango ginger and white ginger, and they serve double duty as kitchen spices. Likewise for C. longa, the common turmeric.
The young leaves and blooms of the C. parviflora are eaten as a vegetable while its rhizome pulps are used to apply on cut wounds. C. caesia or the black turmeric and many other species have healing properties for treating a number of ailments.
Besides being raised as root crops and used in herbal remedies, and in landscaping, Curcumas are planted en masse in borders or mixed beds and also in pot. They are upright, clump-forming medium-sized shrubs, ranging from about 0.6m to 2m in height.
Some curcuma species only have aesthetic value. The Siam tulip or summer tulip (not a real tulip) is a native of Thailand and Cambodia and botanically named Curcuma alismatifolia. It is so-called as it has beautiful cupped bracts and tulip-like long, narrow leaves.
Many Siam tulip cultivars and hybrids have been bred for the garden. These medium-sized shrubs grow to reach 0.6m to 1.2m high. Their prominent blooms that are usually pink or white are on scapes that are higher than the foliage and they make excellent cut flowers. The bracts that surround the long-lasting inflorescence on the terminal spike produce axillary flower buds. Open flowers are smallish.
They flourish well under a full sun or partial sun in fertile, loamy, well-draining soil. Water and feed with balanced fertilisers regularly. Propagate by dividing up the underground rhizomes as they are mostly hybrids, hence sterile and do not set seed.
Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric, kunyit, haldi or Indian saffron, originates from southeast India. Its tuberous rhizome is not only a culinary spice. It is used to create fabric dye and has medicinal uses. The leaves are used as an aromatic herb, have cosmetic benefits and possess the anti-oxidant, curcumin.
The stem-less stout shrub itself is pretty enough to be an ornamental. It does well in partial sun locations. The plant bears attractive greenish-yellow blooms with pale yellow coma bracts and tiny white yellow-centred flowers that poke out from the bracts. The simple ovate green leaves are veined at the lower side and narrow at the tips. It grows upwards to attain a height of about a metre and its brilliant bloom nestles among the leaves.
Grow it in a pot or in the ground in fertile, loamy, well-draining soil. Water daily and apply organic fertilisers regularly. The rhizomes grow quickly and require repotting once the roots fill up the whole pot. When repotting, harvest roots or divide plant.
Grow from the tuberous rhizomes bought from the farmer’s market or newly harvested root. Pick a fresh raw turmeric rhizome with buds, place it into a shallow hole and cover it with some soil. Grow it in a partial sun location. Keep soil moist at all times and it will grow new leaves.