Kahili Ginger or Longose Jaune

For any amateur botanist who has travelled around the tropics, it becomes abundantly clear that the vast majority of ornamentals can now be found in virtually any country, territory or island of similar climate. This is, of course, great if their presence is limited to people’s gardens and public parks, but once they spread and become an invasive species, to the detriment of the endemic local flora, that’s a very different story. Here on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, one of the most widely represented invasive plant is the stunning Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum). Known locally by its French name of “Longose jaune”, it has spread so much that it now occupies enormous areas of the island, including the recently-established national parks.

Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)

And yet, these are such beautiful plants to look at! They turn the sides of the many winding mountain roads on Réunion into exquisite gardens, making the often tortuous car ride or mountain hike a vastly more pleasant experience. They are also fragrant. Besides the yellow flowers pictured on this page, an orange/red variety is also present on the island. Each inflorescence holds up to 50 flowers and the lovely contrast between the pale yellow flowers and the long red stamens provides another attractive aspect.

Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)

Kahili ginger originates in the Himalayas of India, Nepal and Bhutan. From what I’ve seen, it enjoys high altitudes of between 500 and 2,000 metres above sea level and it is well established even on very steep slopes. Although classified as a tropical plant, this member of the Zingiberaceae family is reportedly hardy enough to tolerate a little frost from time to time. As such it has become a popular ornamental to grow in subtropical and even temperate zones. It flowers once a year, towards the end of the warmest period of the year.

Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)

Finally, I will add two photographs of the plant that were taken (in Réunion’s Cirque de Salazie) more for the scenery than the flowers, but they may better illustrate the ornamental value these “nasty” invasive species provide. I don’t want to judge or take sides in the debate about the detrimental effect these foreign plants have on local flora. But the fact is that the Kahili ginger is here and it isn’t easy to eliminate from the vast areas it has spread to, so we might as well just enjoy the beauty.

Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)

Finally, one last remark about Réunion. This is one of the most stunning tropical islands I have ever visited, on par with Nuku Hiva or Moorea, but larger, with much higher mountains (the tallest peak here is Piton des Neiges at 3,070 metres). The scenery couldn’t possibly be more dramatic, featuring soaring peaks, thunderous waterfalls and charming creole communes. The views are soul-stirring and the road infrastructure to get there is rather excellent. Réunion certainly is a fantastic place to visit!

Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)

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