DELTA home

The families of flowering plants

L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz

Zingiberaceae Lindl.

Including Amomeae (Amomaceae) A. Rich., Curcumaceae Dum.; excluding Costaceae.

Habit and leaf form. Herbs; bearing essential oils. Perennial; without conspicuous aggregations of leaves; rhizomatous. Self supporting, or epiphytic. Mesophytic. Leaves persistent; alternate; distichous; ‘herbaceous’, or leathery; petiolate, or subsessile, or sessile; sheathing (the appressed sheaths often constituting pseudostems, cf. Musa). Leaf sheaths tubular, or not tubular; with free margins. Leaves usually without marked odour (often by contrast with the aromatic roots and/or fruits); simple. Lamina entire; linear, or lanceolate, or oblanceolate, or oblong, or ovate; pinnately veined; cross-venulate (sometimes?), or without cross-venules (usually, at least not conspicuously so).

General anatomy. Plants with silica bodies.

Leaf anatomy. Epidermis containing silica bodies (spherical). The mesophyll with spherical etherial oil cells; containing crystals. The crystals druses, or solitary-prismatic (no raphides). Foliar vessels absent. Minor leaf veins without phloem transfer cells (Zingiber).

Axial (stem, wood) anatomy. Secondary thickening absent. The axial xylem with vessels (2 Renealmia species only), or without vessels (mostly).

The vessel end-walls scalariform.

Root anatomy. Root xylem with vessels; vessel end-walls scalariform (nearly always), or scalariform and simple (occasionally).

Reproductive type, pollination. Plants hermaphrodite. Floral nectaries present. Nectar secretion from the gynoecium (via one or three glands, these variously shaped, at the style base), or from the gynoecium and from the androecium (sometimes also from the staminodes). Pollination entomophilous, or ornithophilous (the family exhibiting a variety of epigynous and staminodial nectariferous glands).

Inflorescence, floral, fruit and seed morphology. Flowers aggregated in ‘inflorescences’; in cymes, or in spikes. The ultimate inflorescence units cymose, or racemose. Inflorescences terminal; spikes or thyrses. Flowers bracteate; bracteolate, or ebracteolate; medium-sized; very irregular; zygomorphic. The floral irregularity involving the perianth and involving the androecium. Flowers 3 merous; cyclic; obscurely pentacyclic. Perigone tube absent.

Perianth with distinct calyx and corolla; 6; joined; 2 whorled; isomerous; different in the two whorls. Calyx 3; 1 whorled; gamosepalous; entire, or lobulate, or blunt-lobed; unequal but not bilabiate, or regular; valvate (or splitting on one side); with the median member anterior. Corolla 3; 1 whorled; gamopetalous; unequal but not bilabiate (the median petal usually bigger).

Androecium 5. Androecial members free of the perianth; coherent (the lateral members of the inner whorl fused to form a petaloid labellum, the laterals of the outer whorl when present sometimes appearing as lobes on the functional stamen); 2 whorled. Androecium including staminodes. Staminodes 4, or 2 (the lateral pair of the outer whorl present or absent, the outer median being missing, the fused laterals of the inner whorl forming the conspicuous labellum); external to the fertile stamens and in the same series as the fertile stamens; petaloid (the members of the outer whorl usually much smaller). Stamens 1 (the median, posterior member of the theoretical inner whorl); reduced in number relative to the adjacent perianth; oppositiperianthial; filantherous. Anthers dehiscing via longitudinal slits; introrse; tetrasporangiate; appendaged, or unappendaged. Endothecium developing fibrous thickenings. The endothecial thickenings spiral. Anther epidermis persistent. Microsporogenesis successive. The initial microspore tetrads isobilateral (usually), or tetrahedral, or T-shaped, or linear. Anther wall initially with more than one middle layer (4 to 6). Tapetum amoeboid, or glandular. Pollen grains aperturate, or nonaperturate (usually); when aperturate, 1 aperturate; sulcate; 2-celled (in 5 genera).

Gynoecium 3 carpelled. Carpels isomerous with the perianth. The pistil 1 celled, or 3 celled. Gynoecium syncarpous; eu-syncarpous; inferior. Ovary 1 locular, or 3 locular. The ‘odd’ carpel anterior. Gynoecium stylate. Styles 1; apical; much longer than the ovary (slender, passing between the thecae of the anther). Stigmas 1; wet type; papillate; Group III type. Placentation when unilocular parietal to basal, or free central (rarely); when trilocular, axile. Ovules in the single cavity when unilocular, 4–100; 4–50 per locule; arillate; anatropous, or orthotropous; bitegmic; crassinucellate. Outer integument not contributing to the micropyle. Embryo-sac development Polygonum-type. Polar nuclei fusing prior to fertilization. Antipodal cells not formed (the nuclei ephemeral). Synergids pear-shaped, or hooked. Hypostase present. Endosperm formation helobial. Embryogeny asterad.

Fruit fleshy, or non-fleshy; dehiscent, or indehiscent; a capsule, or capsular-indehiscent, or a berry. Seeds thinly endospermic. Perisperm present. Seeds with starch. Cotyledons 1. Embryo achlorophyllous (Zingiber sp.); straight. Testa encrusted with phytomelan; black.

Seedling. Hypocotyl internode present (short to longish). Mesocotyl absent. Seedling collar not conspicuous. Cotyledon hyperphyll compact; non-assimilatory. Coleoptile present, or absent. First leaf dorsiventral. Primary root ephemeral.

Physiology, phytochemistry. C3. C3 physiology recorded directly in Curcuma, Elettaria, Zingiber. Anatomy non-C4 type (Curcuma, Elettaria, Zingiber). Accumulated starch other than exclusively ‘pteridophyte type’. Cyanogenic (?Hedychium), or not cyanogenic. Anthraquinones detected (Aframomum, Curcuma); derived from shikimic acid, or polyacetate derived. Saponins/sapogenins present (Alpinia), or absent. Proanthocyanidins present (usually), or absent (Globba); delphinidin (Brachychilum), or cyanidin and delphinidin. Flavonols present (Globba, Brachychilum), or absent (4 genera); kaempferol (in Globba), or myricetin (sic — in Brachychilum). Ellagic acid absent. Sieve-tube plastids P-type; type II.

Geography, cytology. Tropical. Pantropical, but chiefly Indomalayan. X = (9-)12(-26).

Taxonomy. Subclass Monocotyledonae. Dahlgren et al. Superorder Zingiberiflorae; Zingiberales (cf. Costaceae). APG III core angiosperms; Superorder Lilianae; commelinid Monocot. APG IV Order Zingiberales.

Species about 700. Genera about 45; Aframomum, Alpinia, Amomum, Aulotandra, Boesenbergia, Burbidgea, Camptandra, Caulokaempferia, Cautleya, Curcuma, Curcumorpha, Cyphostigma, Elettaria, Elettariopsis, Etlingera, Gagnepainia, Geocharis, Globba, Haniffia, Haplochorema, Hedychium, Hemiorchis, Hitchenia, Hornstedtia, Kaempferia, Leptosolena, Mantisia, Nanochilus, Paracautleya, Parakaempferia, Plagiostachys, Pleuranthodium, Pommereschea, Renealmia, Rhynchanthus, Riedelia, Roscoea, Scaphochlamys, Siliquamomum, Siphonochilus, Smithatris, Stadiochilus, Stahlianthus, Vanoverberghia, Zingiber.

Economic uses, etc. The sources of ginger root, numerous fragrant oils for perfumery, cardamom seed, and horticultural ornamentals.


(For a feast, I must have) . . . a race or two of ginger
(‘The Winter’s Tale’, iv., 2 - race (racine) = root)

Illustrations. • Aframomum laurentii: Thonner. • Le Maout and Decaisne: Alpinia, Renealmia, Amomum, Hedychium. • Kaempferia pandurata, Elettaria: Lindley. • Aframomum cereum, as Amomum sceptrum: Bot. Mag. 95 (1869). • Alpinia flagellaris, as Eriolopha: Hook. Ic. Pl. 31 (1916). • Amomum maximum: Bot. Reg. 929, 1825. • Curcuma oligantha: Trimen, Ill. Fl. Ceylon (1898). • Curcuma petiolata: Bot. Mag. 96 (1870). • Cyphostigma pulchellum: Hook. Ic. Pl. 14 (1880–82). • Riedelia curviflora: Hook. Ic. Pl. 15 (1883). • Roscoea purpurea: Bot. Reg. xxvi, 61 (1840).

We advise against extracting comparative information from the descriptions. This is much more easily achieved using the DELTA data files or the interactive key, which allows access to the character list, illustrations, full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, distributions of character states within any set of taxa, geographical distribution, genera included in each family, and classifications (Dahlgren; Dahlgren, Clifford, and Yeo; Cronquist; APG). See also Guidelines for using data taken from Web publications.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 1992 onwards. The families of flowering plants: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. Version: 5th March 2018.’.