Alpinia malaccensis (Burm.) Roscoe
by Dr. Sam Yen Yen
Alpinia malaccensis (Burm.) Roscoe
by Dr. Sam Yen Yen

Alpinia malaccensis var. nobilis is a large ginger between 2 and 4 meters tall. Its long, leafy stems arise from stout rhizomes just below the soil surface, growing close together in large clumps. It has large glossy green leaves arranged in 2 rows on the upper half of the stem.

The inflorescences are the showiest parts of the plant. They are held erect at the tip of the stem, bearing among the largest of the Alpinia flowers in Peninsular Malaysia. Each newly-emerged inflorescence is enclosed entirely by 2 large sheaths, looking very much like the young inflorescence of a banana. The flowers are very attractive; especially the bright yellow lip mottled with red at the base, with red lines extending to the edge of the lip. Fully open flowers emit a slightly foul smell akin to rotten meat. The fruits are almost spherical with slight depressions at each end. They are covered with fine hairs and turn orange when ripe. If crushed, the fruits emit a smell like the leaves of Piper sarmentosum , a culinary spice and salad, known in Malaysia as ‘daun kadok' .

A. malaccensis has a wide distribution, ranging from northeast India to Indochina, southwards to Peninsular Malaysia and Java, but the plant found in the Malay Peninsula is a locally endemic variety – A. malaccensis var. nobilis . It normally grows in open areas near streams or rivers, and has been recorded in three States, i.e., Terengganu, Pahang and Selangor.

A. malaccensis var. nobilis looks very similar to the popular garden plant, A . zerumbet , but the latter differs in having a pendulous inflorescence. Because A. malaccensis var. nobilis thrives in open, sunny areas with minimal maintenance; it has excellent potential as an ornamental plant for the landscape industry.

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