The tasty rainforest gingers

Skyrail Nature Diary: February 2009

The native gingers in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests are edible, beautiful and putting on a flowering and fruiting spectacular this month.

The Pleated Ginger is so-named for its leaves, which have a gently pleated edge and underside covered in fine hairs, giving it a soft, furry texture. Pleated Gingers have large, beautiful white flowers, which appear on long stems and open progressively for several weeks. They are replaced by fruits, which are full of brown, angular seeds.

This is a great time of year to see the bright blue berries of the Native Ginger, the fluffy white flowers of the Pleated Ginger and the large, lush foliage of the Scott’s Hornstedtia, all of which can be seen on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

The Native Ginger (Alpinia caerulea) is easy to identify this month, presenting stunning clusters of bright blue berries. This is a particularly ‘useful’ ginger in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests and was used by the indigenous inhabitants for food, cooking and shelter.

The fruits, which are 10-18mm in diameter, are green, before they ripen to a brilliant blue, giving the plant its other common name, Blue Ginger. The ripe fruits of the Native Ginger can be seen throughout the year and are particularly prevalent at the moment, on the access ramp at Skyrail’s Red Peak Station.

The fruits are edible, if somewhat tart, and are a tasty treat for many rainforest residents including the Southern Cassowary, Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots, Bowerbirds, Giant White-tailed Rats and Fawn Footed Melomys.

Another edible part of the Native Ginger is the root tips, which are crunchy and refreshing, with a crisp ginger taste.

The large leaves of this species, which can grow to 55cm long by 10cm wide, were used by Aborigines to cook food. Meat and fish were wrapped in the leaves, before being placed in an earth oven to cook. They were also used to make shelter and covering.

The Native Ginger is the hardiest and most common of its species in Australia. It grows in dense clumps of erect stems up to 4m tall.

Another rainforest ginger species, the Pleated Ginger (Alpinia arctiflora), also grows in dense clumps of large stems, which can grow up to 4m in height.

Another species seen from Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is the Scott’s Hornstedtia (Hornstedtia scottiana), which grows prolifically on the Barron Falls side of Red Peak Station. When seen from the cableway, you will recognise this species with its large, lush strap-shaped leaves, which grow in clusters.

The plant itself can grow up to 4m tall; its leaves are 70cm long by 16cm wide. From the cableway, you will only ever see the leaves of the Scott’s Hornstedtia, which is also known as Native Cardamon, as it flowers and fruits at its base, on the ground.