Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium Coronarium) or Kamia is a perennial plant which forms clones from rhizome buds. The success of colonization and rapid proliferation of the species is partly due to its foliar architecture. Butterfly Ginger can thrive in waterlogged soil and high light habitats. Only the youngest leaves are vertical and the number of stomata is higher on the abaxial face, with hypoderm, asymmetrical mesophyll and folding of the margins all of which appear to act as preventative measures against photoinhibition
Reproduction is mainly vegetative, from parts of rhizomes, but also sexual. Spread by seeds is generally localized because the seeds are not produced in large numbers and are rarely displayed conspicuously. However, the red aril that covers the seeds attracts a number of insects that may carry the seeds a short distance. The flowers are zygomorphic, hermaphroditic and nectariferous and exhibit nocturnal anthesis, emitting a strong odour that can spread long distances. The staminodes attract floral visitors and the androecium is composed of a sole fertile stamen with pollen grains. The stigma is green, wet, concave and surrounded by uniform hairs. The species is self incompatible, presenting low rates of fruit set and the flowering follows an annual pattern, showing asynchrony in the population level.
Butterfly Ginger can be found in tropical and subtropical regions. It favours waterlogged habitats with high temperatures all year round. The plants are susceptible to severe frost. As a cultivated plant it can live in upland gardens and even indoors. Partial sun to light shade is ideal but plants will tolerate considerable shade and even full sun if adequate moisture is available. Once established, it will tolerate seasonal droughts as well as more or less boggy condition.
Butterfly Ginger is mainly used for ornamental purposes, in gardens and as cut flowers. The fragrant flowers are used extensively in garlands (or leis) in India, Japan and Hawaii. It is the national flower of Cuba where it is known as the white butterfly because of the shape of its flower. It is used in bouquets for brides, on altars and as offerings for the dead.
Essential oils from the flowers are used to make high grade perfumes in Hawaii, China and Brazil. The Gulbakawali Ark (extract) sold in the Chhattisgarh region of India, is an extract from the flower. The flowers are collected and Ark (extract) is collected through an indigenous method of steam distillation. In Spanish colonial times, women used to adorn themselves with the flowers because of their incredible fragrance and the intricate structure of the inflorescence was used by women to hide and carry secret messages important to the independence cause. It is said that a guajiro’s (farmer’s) house is not complete without a white ginger in its garden.
The rhizomes are edible and have been used for starch extraction. They have also been used a source of cellulose for paper manufacture and fibre for textiles. The flowers are also eaten, lightly steamed and served with a chilli sauce in Thailand.
Several medicinal uses of the rhizome and stem bases are also reported in the literature and include diuretic, hypertensive, antidiabetic, antisyphilitic and antifungal properties.
The rhizomes are also the source of essential oil that is used in perfumery and pharmaceutical preparations. The rhizome of gulbakawali is used in Chinese natural medicine and has been prescribed and used in the treatment of headache, lancinating pain, inflammatory and intense pain due to rheumatism, etc. It also has uses as a tonic, excitant and anti-rheumatic in the Ayurvedic system.