Hedychium spicatum J. E. Smith in A. Rees, The Cyclopaedia 17: 8 (1811).

Accepted name

Hedychium spicatum J. E. Smith in A. Rees, The Cyclopaedia 17: 8 (1811).

Comments Hedychium spicatum has a large natural range from Kumaun to the west of Nepal east to Guizhou in China and inevitably varies somewhat in character across its range. The species is relatively common in nature and its prominent seed capsules make it an obvious target for seed collectors. As a consequence, Hedychium spicatum has been collected many times in the wild and a number of more or less distinct forms are available. 

Hedychium spicatum is one of the hardiest and most floriferous for the open garden; although not the most spectacular of Hedychium some forms have great presence in the garden.

All of the forms seem to have slightly scented white flowers shading to yellow and then deep orange at the base of the labellum and lateral staminodes. In some forms the flowers turn distinctly yellow as they age. Height at flowering varies from a little less than 1 m to 2 m or more depending on form and growing conditions. Hedychium spicatum remains of interest after flowering. It tends to set seed readily and when ripe the green seed capsules burst open to reveal orange linings with the seeds enclosed in bright red arils.

In India the fragrant rhizomes of Hedychium spicatum are a considerable item of trade. The dried rhizomes are burned as incense and a powdered form called "abir" is used for perfuming a tobacco that is chewed in paan rather than smoked. An essential oil derived from the rhizomes is used in perfumery but also has antibiotic properties. The rhizome of Hedychium spicatum has a special religious significance at marriage ceremonies. Its decoction is applied to the body of the bride and groom to keep them cool. More prosaically, floor mats are made from the foliage after it has desiccated at the onset of winter.

Hedychium spicatum is one of those species that is naturally deciduous before the onset of frost and some forms give good yellow autumn colour.

Some forms of Hedychium spicatum are confused with Hedychium yunnanense and Hedychium forrestii Hort. in the nursery trade. A comparison between Hedychium spicatum and Hedychium forrestii Hort. is given here. A comparison between Hedychium spicatum and Hedychium yunnanense is given here.

"Hedychium nepalensis" Hort. is an invalid name applied to a fairly ordinary form of Hedychium spicatum (see below) but which, at least in the example I have grown, does have better fragrance than most Hedychium spicatum.


I have grown 10 or more forms of Hedychium spicatum the most interesting of which are as follows:

'Singalila' BSWJ 2303
BWJ 8116
P. Bon. 57188
ex Hill House nursery as "Hedychium yunnanense"
Salween Valley form, China
from Dudh Kosi Valley, Nepal

"Hedychium nepalensis"

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last updated 08/10/2008