Costus woodsonii: Red button ginger

Family: Costaceae
Common name: Red button ginger, Indian head ginger, Spiral ginger, Red cane ginger, Scarlet spiral flag, Red button costus, Dwarf cone ginger, Panama candle plant, Red cane, Dwarf French kiss

Red button ginger plant in bloom looks like it has tiny red missiles ready for launch, positioned on stems all over the plant. These decorative, funky plants can reach a height of 1-2 meters with thick, succulent stems which are slightly spiral.

Leaves are thick, fleshy, leathery, alternate, with no stalk, and spirally arranged along the tall stem. They are elliptical with a sharp pointy end and are about 20-25 cms long.

Red button ginger leaves are glossy and dark green on the upper surface and paler on the lower surface. It is the beautiful inflorescence that gives the plant its name, Red button ginger.

The inflorescence is made up of bright, glossy, red bracts that are shaped like large lipstick tubes, with orange-red flowers projecting from inside the bracts.

These cylindrical spikes can be 12-15 cms long tapering towards the tip when they become older. Red button ginger plants also produce small capsule-like fruits which contain black seeds.

The flowers produce nectar which attracts ants, hummingbirds, sunbirds, and bees that help pollinate the flowers. Seeds have white arils that make them attractive to birds, who help in seed dispersal.

Costus is a very popular family of ginger plants, belonging to the family Costaceae along with Zingiberaceae, the family that contains true ginger and turmeric plants. The plants in the Costus family can be distinguished by the spiral arrangement of leaves on their stems. So they are also called Spiral gingers.

Red button ginger plant has rhizomatous roots, which spreads and shoots out more stems, thus helping the plant spread quickly. The plants prefer partial sunlight and well-drained soil. They can also be grown as indoor plants, though they might not bloom as much as outdoor ones.

They prefer moist soil and will do well with misting, to keep the leaves moist. Red button ginger plants can be pruned to maintain a thick bushy appearance. They are sturdy plants that do not need regular care, maintenance, and fertilization, capable of thriving under neglect.

Propagation is through seeds, stem cuttings, and by splitting the root rhizomes.

Image credits: Arshi Zaman