Hedychium coronarium J. König in A. J. Retzius, Observationes Botanicae  3: 73 (1783).

Accepted name

Hedychium coronarium J. König in A. J. Retzius, Observationes Botanicae  3: 73 (1783).

Synonyms Hedychium consanguineum Hort. Cat. Himalayan Plants 2008
Distribution Hedychium coronarium occurs up to about 1,900 m in tropical and subtropical Asia, probably from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal east to China and south through Indochina. There is however some doubt as to its native range since it is has long been widely cultivated in the tropics.
Description The foliage is an attractive bright green and the undersides of the leaves and the long scarious ligules are silky hairy. The plant usually flowers at about 1.75 m in cultivation. The inflorescence bracts are green, broad and overlapped like the shingles on a roof giving the appearance of a narrow cone 15 cm long or more. Each bract subtends 3 - 6 large, heavily fragrant flowers with lips up to 5 cm across. The flowers are more or less pure white but with a somewhat variable yellow flush to the centre of the labellum and to the anther.

Hedychium coronarium is the gandasuli of India, a Sanskrit word meaning "the fragrance of the princess" or "the queen's perfume".

The plant has long been cultivated in India and elsewhere in the Asian tropics for the wonderful fragrance of the flowers, which are made into garlands, and worn in the hair by women. The flowers can also be eaten; they are lightly steamed or blanched and served with nam phrik (hot chilli sauce) in Thailand. The powdered rhizome and an essential oil derived from it are antibiotic and, more prosaically, the pseudostems can be used to make a very strong paper.

Hedychium coronarium is a reasonably hardy plant and there are plenty of reports of it surviving outdoors in the UK.  However, it flowers only in late autumn in my experience and I have never seen good evidence of anyone getting it to flower outdoors in the mainland UK.  There are plants that might be Hedychium coronarium at Trengwainton, the National Trust garden at Penzance.  I have seen these in bud in September on visits to the garden in 2005 and 2008 but I don't believe they flower.

I recommend that Hedychium coronarium should not be grown in the garden. Certainly there are anecdotal reports of Hedychium coronarium flowering outdoors in the UK.  I have never seen evidence of this and think that these reports are based on mislabelled plants. In particular, there is a plant sold sometimes as Hedychium coronarium but which is either a distinct species or, perhaps more probably, a hybrid between Hedychium coronarium and Hedychium ellipticum. This hybrid does flower much earlier than Hedychium coronarium and information about it is here. I recommend that to get Hedychium coronarium to flower reliably under UK conditions it should be grown only in a cool, or heated, greenhouse or conservatory.

I have grown five supposedly different forms of Hedychium coronarium but to be honest can't see or smell any differences between them. They are listed here in the order in which I acquired them:

Hedychium coronarium "White Butterfly" - "White Butterfly" is the name commonly given to Hedychium coronarium in the USA. The addition of a name like "White Butterfly" (particularly with single quotes) implies that it is a distinct cultivar of Hedychium coronarium but it's not. "White Butterfly" is indistinguishable from the other named forms of Hedychium coronarium available.  There are three tests for a cultivar, it should be Distinct, Uniform and Stable (DUS).  Since "White Butterfly" falls at the first hurdle, it is not distinct form other forms of Hedychium coronarium, it cannot be called a cultivar.  Instead the name "White Butterfly" is merely a marketing name.

Hedychium coronarium "Andromeda" - Reputedly deriving from the Andromeda Gardens on Barbados this sounds like something different but it behaves and looks just like other forms of Hedychium coronarium.  It fails the DUS test (see above) and cannot be called a cultivar.  There is a possibility that I was sold "ordinary" Hedychium coronarium labelled as "Andromeda" but I rather doubt that "Andromeda" is distinct.

"Hedychium consanguineum" - This is an invalid name used by the Indian company Himalayan Plants to apply to material of Hedychium coronarium.  Through them the name has entered the UK nursery trade.  The plant is Hedychium coronarium and is indistinguishable from the other forms available.  Some claim it has the best scent but I do not.

Hedychium coronarium from Ness Botanic Garden - This material appeared in the trade in 2004 and again is indistinguishable from other Hedychium coronarium.

"Hedychium villosum" - There is a plant called Hedychium villosum but this isn't it. This plant from the Dutch wholesaler Hoog & Dix labelled as Hedychium villosum turned out to be Hedychium coronarium.  Hoog & Dix "guarantee" that the plants they sell are correctly named - with the name provided by their supplier, which, when you think about it, is no guarantee at all.


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last updated 25/09/2008