Most houseplants serve as decorations, centerpieces, and just little pockets of enjoyment for collectors. That’s all well and good. Those are excellent reasons to keep plants in your home. What if you could have something beautiful and functional, though? The shampoo ginger lily is both!
If you thought the name was just clever wordplay, think again. The shampoo ginger lily, or Zingiber zerumbet, is well-known for the ginger-scented fluid produced by its flower head (inflorescence). That milky-white fluid is used as a shampoo and a hair treatment, making its nickname quite literal! Even massive brands like Paul Mitchell are on board with this natural hair care option; it’s included in several shampoo and conditioner lines!
The shampoo ginger lily is native to Southeast Asia. Polynesian settlers brought the plant to Hawaii, however, and the islands are largely responsible for making it famous. Awapuhi kuahiwi is its name in Hawaii and it’s commonly called Awapuhi on ingredient labels.
|Common Name||Shampoo ginger lily|
|Botanical name||Zingiber zerumbet|
|Native Areas||Southeast Asia|
|Sun/Light Requirements||Mix of bright and indirect light, at least 6 hours per day|
|Water||Frequently (keep soil moist)|
|Soil||Nutrient-dense, well-draining, slightly acidic|
|Temperature/Humidity||Above 55°F, 50% humidity|
|Size||4ft tall (average), 2-inch to 4-inch inflorescence|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA Zones 8 to 12|
Shampoo ginger lilies are not only functional and incredibly useful, but they’re also beautiful! These stunning plants grow up to four feet tall on average but can stretch to a massive seven feet high under the right conditions. The inflorescence can be anywhere from two to four inches.
Zingiber zerumbet has vivid green foliage and sports its famous red pine cone-shaped flower (otherwise known as inflorescence). The inflorescence isn’t always red, though. Around the middle of summer, shampoo ginger lilies grow green cone bracts. Once the plant blooms, the bracts start to turn to that scarlet red that everyone knows and loves. The red lingers for weeks at a time.
Shampoo ginger lilies can be grown outdoors or indoors, but if you don’t live in a hardiness zone that suits this plant, you can expect to spend some time tending to it inside. It’s worth the effort, of course, as you’ll have haircare growing naturally right in your kitchen!
Your Zingiber zerumbet needs a bit of extra attention in this area. You can’t just set it in one spot and forget about it. This plant needs a mixture of direct and indirect sunlight, just as it would receive in its native habitat. Both full sun and partial shade are necessary at different times, but this plant generally needs around six hours of full sun per day.
This plant is a great option for west-facing windows, as they’ll provide it with all the direct light it requires. If the afternoon sun burns too brightly or too hot, all you have to do is move your plant back and away from the window to let it rest.
Offering your plant too little light will stunt its growth. Many people grow this plant to admire it and to use it, so you want to keep it in the best health possible.
Zingiber zerumbet prefers consistently moist soil. Don’t let it dry out completely, but don’t leave it swimming in its pot, either. During summer months and warmer temperatures, water your shampoo ginger lily frequently – once a week at least. This plant has a long growing season, so expect it to be thirsty from spring to fall. When winter finally hits, take a short break from your watering schedule and cut back a bit. Below are a few other helpful watering tips.
- Good drainage – Make sure you have a container with adequate drainage holes. Shampoo ginger lilies like moist soil, but they don’t want to be waterlogged.
- Watering location – All watering techniques are not made equally. If you want to lessen the odds of a fungal infection, water the base of the plant at the soil line instead of watering the leaves. It can make a big difference if you frequently find yourself battling some kind of creeping plant disease.
- Distilled water – Some plants are sensitive to the treatments in tap water (fluoride, chlorine, and so on), and distilled water is free of additives. Over time, salts and minerals build up and may cause issues for your shampoo ginger lily. This is especially true if you have hard water. Opt for distilled to keep the shampoo ginger lily the happiest!
Shampoo ginger lilies prefer very nutrient-rich and well-draining soil. You can go for a neutral pH or lean slightly acidic. Good quality potting mix is an excellent choice for these red beauties. Bark, perlite, and vermiculite are all solid options to add extra drainage.
This is a tropical plant, but it isn’t particularly choosy when it comes to temperatures. Any household temperature is suitable. The only concrete requirement is that you don’t let it linger in temperatures below 55°F. If you grow your shampoo ginger lily outside, you’ll want to pull it in for the winter. Any plants being kept indoors should be moved away from cold drafts or poorly-insulated windows during cold winters.
It’s no surprise that this Southeast Asian plant prefers humidity environments over arid ones. Stick with 50% humidity and your shampoo ginger lily will thank you. If you can’t seem to keep the humidity levels up on your own, try the following.
- Group other tropical plants nearby
- Set up a humidifier
- Set your plant on a pebble tray with water
- Mist daily with room-temperature water
Any combination of these tricks will let you keep that 50% humidity!
Natural fertilizer, like compost, is an excellent choice for shampoo ginger lilies, but you can go the store-bought fertilizer route, too. For the best results, reach for a phosphorous-heavy fertilizer. It boosts the health of the blooms and rhizomes. Fertilize your plant once per month during the growing season. Once winter arrives, set your fertilizer aside until spring returns anew. You don’t want to overdo it!
If you get the right setup and conditions, shampoo ginger lilies grow very quickly. If they’re kept as outdoor plants, they quickly spread across areas in just a few years. Because they grow so quickly, you can help them out with some pruning needs. Remove any dead or decaying leaves you see so the plant can divert its energy back to producing new, healthy growths.
So you’ve kept your shampoo ginger lily alive and it’s doing well. Do you want more? Of course, you do! Propagating Zingiber zerumbet is easy enough with the rhizome method.
To begin, carefully dig up your plant and take special care to leave the roots intact and undamaged. Brush off (or wash away) the soil so you can clearly see the rhizome. Remove the rhizomes from the plant, leaving several shoots for each section. Keep several stems (with leaves) and roots attached. If necessary, you can cut the rhizomes apart with clear, sharp pruning tools.
Once you have your rhizomes separated, bury them in your soil mixture or potting soil. While these rhizomes root and grow, they need plenty of bright, indirect light. Water them thoroughly and wait for your new plants to come in!
Pests and Diseases
You could encounter spider mites or mealybugs on your plant. Fortunately, unless the infestations are severe, it’s easy enough to handle them. Wash or wipe the affected areas or spray them with fast-moving water. If that doesn’t quite do the trick, grab some horticultural soap or plant-safe oil and spray or rub down your plant!
The shampoo ginger lily is also susceptible to diseases like root rot. The easiest and superior way to prevent root rot is to avoid overwatering. Use the finger test to determine if the top couple of inches of soil are dry. If they’re not, hold off on watering! It will save you many headaches and possibly prevent you from killing your plant with kindness.
Other Uses for the Shampoo Ginger Lily
The shampoo ginger lily makes excellent, high-quality hair care products (and can be used all on its own for those purposes) but that’s not all it can do.
- Medicinal purposes – These plants are related to turmeric and ginger. The rhizomes are edible, although they’re bitter and not particularly appealing to eat. They do have medicinal applications, however. Like ginger, they’re used to treat intestinal distress (upset stomach, diarrhea, etc.)
- Food – The shampoo ginger lily is non-toxic and safe to eat. It is bitter but can impart a ginger-like flavor to meat and other food. Try cooking a stir fry with the leaves or stalks. Just don’t add too much and the bitter qualities come through, too.
The shampoo ginger lily is as beautiful as it is useful, and that’s a hard combination to beat! They might not be for the most novice plant parents out there, but their care requirements aren’t outrageous or particularly difficult to meet. If you’ve tended to other tropical plants, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary about this one. Besides, you’ll have a self-replenishing shampoo bottle and new food to try!