Flora and Fauna of Malaysia & Borneo

The Gingers of Malaysia and Borneo

Costus speciosa

The Zingiberaceae is group of plants commonly known as “ginger”. It is a prominent component of tropical floras throughout the world with the center of distribution in SE Asia. The species richness of Bornean gingers is quite high as the greatest concentration of genera and species is in the Malesian region (Indonesia, Malaysia, the island of Borneo, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

Hornstedia incana

Gingers are used as ornamental plants for gardens, for traditional medicine, and in culinary preparations as a spice. Mostly terrestrial, they are found growing naturally in damp, shady areas but some species can tolerate full sun. There are also epiphytic gingers. Hedychium longicornutum is often encountered growing on the trunks of palms and trees in Peninsular Malaysia. Amomum roseisquamosum is an epiphyte found in Borneo.


Most gingers species bloom more than once a year, or occasionally continuously with brief interruptions. It is the floral structure or inflorescence of these plants that makes them so distinctive in the forest. The gaudy, plastic looking floral structure is usually red, yellow, or orange, sometimes white. The flowers produce abundant but fairly dilute nectar, less than 30% sugar by weight, and are mainly visited and pollinated by long-billed spiderhunter birds or long-tongued bees. The fruit is bird or animal dispersed. Some of the gingers that fruit close to the ground actually utilize ants as fruit dispersers.

Myrmecochory, seed dispersal by ants, has been found in several species of Globba that occur in Borneo. Globba species are typical of the Zingiberaceae in reference to the aril, a fleshy appendage that particially encloses the seed. The cells in the aril are usually rich in lipids and also contain proteins and some starch. The aril in Globba species functions as an elaiosome (ant fruit) that the ants can use as a handle to carry the seed and as a source of food. After the aril is eaten by the ants, the seed is discarded intact having been dispersed by the ants.


Zingiberales currently has within it eight families of which, the Zingiberaceae or ginger family is one of the largest families and is predominantly found in tropical Asia. Of the approximately 1200 species of plants found in the Ginger family about 1000 occur in tropical Asia. About 160 species of Zingiberaceae occur in Peninsular Malaysia.

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