Neotropical Zingiberaceae

Paul J.M. Maas and Hiltje Maas-van de Kamer.

National Herbarium, Wageningen University Branch, the Netherlands. 


Perennial often large-sized, aromatic herbs, with rhizomes; indument composed of simple to stellate hairs. Stems terete, straight. Leaves alternate, distichous, with open sheaths and a very small, truncate ligule. Inflorescence generally a terminal panicle, mostly on a separate leafless shoot; bracts mostly herbaceous to membranous, often soon falling off, each subtending 1-10 flowers; bracteole herbaceous, tubular and closed before anthesis, sometimes cup-shaped and open even before anthesis. Flowers zygomorphic; calyx tubular, turbinate, or urceolate, 3-lobed; petals 3, connate into a distinct tube; fertile stamen 1, with a very short filament, anther 1; labellum equaling the corolla, basal part narrowed, with 2 minute tooth-like lateral staminodes, apical part 3-lobed, tubular or horizontally spreading; style 1, filiform, lying close to the stamen and embraced by the thecae, stigma 1, cup-shaped; ovary inferior, 3-locular, with nectarial glands around the base of the style, placentation axile, ovules many, anatropous. Fruit an often red to black capsule, 3-locular, mostly crowned by the persistent calyx, longitudinally and loculicidally dehiscent. Seeds many, ellipsoid, with a large, yellow, orange, or white aril, glossy brown.

Notes on delimitation

  • Zingiberaceae belong to the order of Zingiberales. Neotropical Zingiberaceae can be distinguished from all other families in this order by being aromatic and in having an indument often composed of stellate hairs.

Distribution in the Neotropics

Family:  from Mexico in the North to Bolivia and S Brazil in the South, also present in the West Indian Islands.

  • Renealmia L.f. is the only native genus in the Neotropics.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Zingiberaceae differ from Costaceae in having:

  • Aromatic leaves.
  • Open leaf sheaths.

Number of genera

  • 1 genus: Renealmia (60 spp.).


  • Aframomum K.Schum. - cultivated.
  • Alpinia Roxb. - cultivated.
  • Boesenbergia Kuntze - cultivated.
  • Curcuma L. - cultivated and sometimes naturalized (C. xanthorrhiza).
  • Etlingera Giseke - cultivated.
  • Hedychium J.Koenig - cultivated, but often naturalized (H. coronarium).
  • Kaempferia L. - cultivated.
  • Renealmia - Native.
  • Zingiber Boehm. - cultivated.

General notes

  • Aframomum melegueta K.Schum. is cultivated in the Guianas for its spicy fruit.
  • Several species of Curcuma and Zingiber are cultivated for their spicy rhizomes.
  • Hedychium coronarium J.Koenig is naturalized all over the Neotropics, and in the Andes it is even a pest, replacing the original vegetation along roads.
  • The other genera are cultivated as ornamentals, 2 important species being Alpinia purpurata K.Schum. and Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M. Sm.

Important literature

Larsen, K., J.M. Lock, H. Maas and P.J.M. Maas 1998. Zingiberaceae. In: K. Kubitzki (ed.), The families and genera of vascular plants 4: 474-495.

Maas, P.J.M. Maas. 1972. Renealmia (Zingiberaceae- Zingiberoideae). Costoideae (Additions) (Zingiberaceae). Flora Neotropica Monograph 18: 1-161.

How to cite

Maas, P.J.M. & Maas-van de Kamer, H. (2009). Neotropical Zingiberaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.