Curcuma roscoeana (jewel of Burma)
A popularly cultivated Curcuma, with beautiful, bright orange or yellow flowers, jewel of Burma is a member of the ginger family and an important Thai export.
About this species
Curcuma roscoeana is a rhizomatous, perennial herb. Its bright colours make it valued as a pot plant and cut flower. It is cultivated worldwide and is one of the most popular gingers (members of the Zingiberaceae family) in cultivation. The genus Curcuma also includes turmeric (Curcuma longa), the rhizomes of which are the source of a bright yellow spice (an important constituent of curry powder) and dye.
Geography & Distribution
Native to Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and the Andaman Islands (India), and possibly also Bangladesh. Curcuma roscoeana was collected from forests in Jharkhand and West Bengal (India), between 1875 and 1900, but has not been found in these localities since. It grows in lowland to premontane, evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous forests. It is most common in open, grassy, deciduous forests, in riparian habitats (adjacent to rivers and streams), and often within bamboo thickets, at up to 800 m above sea level. It is locally common, and grows on the forest floor.
A seasonally dormant, rhizomatous herb growing up to one metre tall. The leaves are broadly ovate to elliptic, light green with darker veins, and up to 30 cm long. The tubular flowers are yellow, with peach-orange to dark red-orange bracts. The cut flowers last about two weeks.
Threats & Conservation
Ornamental gingers have rapidly increased in popularity over the past few years, leading to an increase in illegal collecting from the wild. Although not easy to cultivate, Curcuma roscoeana is a striking plant with high ornamental value. It is widely available for sale worldwide and has become an important export for Thailand. The volume of exported rhizomes collected from the wild is unknown. Fortunately, C. roscoeana is also cultivated as a cut flower and pot plant, and micropropagation protocols have been developed, which are likely to have relieved pressure on wild populations.
Deforestation rates are high in parts of the range of Curcuma roscoeana. Many forests in Thailand have been felled to clear land for agriculture or settlements, and illegal logging for timber also occurs. C. roscoeana has been collected in disturbed primary forest, but its ability to regenerate and persist in secondary forest is unknown.
Conservation assessments carried out at Kew
Curcuma roscoeana is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
Jewel of Burma is cultivated as a pot plant and also for cut flowers.
This species at Kew
Jewel of Burma can be seen growing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew.
Pressed and dried specimens of Curcuma roscoeana are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details, including images, of some of these can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue. A specimen of a C. roscoeana rhizome is also held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where it is available to researchers by appointment.
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