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Spike of red back ginger with hundreds of blue berries
This hardy, attractive perennial native is a popular bush tucker plant. Its lush green leaves, bright blue berries and underground rhizomes are all edible and mildly ginger flavoured. Plant in part to full shade, where it will establish quickly and grow vigorously. 


What you need to know about red back ginger

Name: red back ginger, native ginger (Alpinia caerulea ’Atherton Red’).

Height: up to 2m.

Plant type: clumping perennial.

Climate: warm temperate and sub-tropical.

Soil: deep and well-drained, enriched with organic matter.

Position: part shade to full shade. Will tolerate full sun, but leaves may burn.

Foliage: slender, glossy green with burgundy undersides.

Flowering and fruiting: small, fragrant white flowers appear from late spring to early summer, followed by bright blue berries that stay on the plant for months.

Feeding: feed in spring with an organic-based fertiliser.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Appearance and characteristics of red back ginger

This clumping perennial has an attractive bushy habit, with lush green foliage that has burgundy undersides. Small white flowers appear from late spring and are followed by edible bright blue berries with sparse flesh and a mild lemon-ginger flavour. Be sure to discard the seeds before eating the berries. 

The underground rhizomes contain the most flavour. It’s not as pungent or spicy as common ginger, but still has a lovely flavour that can be used in cooking.

Red back ginger grows naturally in the understorey of rainforests in northern NSW and southern Queensland, so it will be at home growing in shady parts of the garden.

A native red back ginger plant

Uses for red back ginger

The handsome foliage of this native ginger is great for bringing life to otherwise dark, shady spots in the garden. Mass plant in beds, grow along borders or display in pots. 

Most parts of the plants are edible, including the leaves. They have a very mild ginger flavour – use them to wrap parcels of fish before baking or steaming. The berries have a lemony-ginger flavour and can be eaten fresh off the plant when ripe (blue, not green), but make sure you discard the seeds first. The rhizomes are milder in flavour than traditional ginger but are great for adding a light gingery spice to curries, desserts and tea.

How to grow red back ginger

Choose a spot in part-to-full shade with moist, well-drained soil. While native ginger can tolerate full sun, it is best avoided as the plant will require heavy watering in summer and the leaves may burn. Improve the soil by digging in organic matter and compost. To plant a potted specimen, dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, loosen the mix to free the roots and place in the centre of the hole. Backfill with soil, firm down and water well.

Mulch around the base of the plant with an organic mulch like pine bark or pea straw to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

How to care for red back ginger

Red back ginger is fairly low-maintenance once established. Keep the soil evenly moist and it will thrive. Over time the leaves can become a little dishevelled, but simply cut them back to keep them tidy. If needed, prune to ground level and they will reshoot. 

As clumps grow and expand, they may eventually become too crowded for the garden bed or pot. Once it reaches this point, it’s time to lift and divide. Separating the plants will help rejuvenate the clump and give you more plants to spread around the garden. The best time to do this is in winter. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and gently lift the whole clump. Break it up into smaller plants and replant them in the garden or pots.

This clumping perennial isn’t bothered by many pests or diseases.

How often should you water and feed red back ginger?

Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Native ginger can tolerate dry spells, but prefers a moist soil. This may mean increasing watering during summer, especially during extended dry spells. Mulching will also help to retain soil moisture. 

Feed in spring with an organic-based fertiliser.

How and when to harvest red back ginger

To harvest, dig up the young rhizomes around the edge of the clump and use as needed. 

Pick and eat the berries when they are blue, but discard the seeds first. 

How to propagate red back ginger

Red back ginger can be propagated via seeds or root/stem divisions. Seeds can take about 8 weeks to germinate, so if you don’t want to wait, source divisions from a mature plant. Plant in a suitable spot in the garden or pot and water well. 

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.

If you like this then try

Lemon myrtle: a beautiful tree with intensely fragrant, citrus-flavoured leaves.

Tucker bush lilly pilly: a native rainforest tree with mildly sweet red berries.

Illawarra plum: a medium to large tree with juicy berry-like fruit that have a mild pine flavour. 

Start planting today

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Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo and tuckerbush.com.au


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