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Not saved by Ginger: Alpinia conchigera, Rimba Ilmu, University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | by Rana Pipiens
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Not saved by Ginger: Alpinia conchigera, Rimba Ilmu, University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Poor William Griffith (1810-1845), another of those intrepid doctors and naturalists in the service of one or more of the East India Companies of European Powers. A civil surgeon and botanist serving the English East India Company, he travelled widely under often appalling conditions through northern India, the Himalayas, Burma... He came finally to Malacca in present-day peninsular Malaysia, where he died of hepatitis in 1845. His notes on plants and flowers and his journals were finally published at Calcutta by the British colonial government of Bengal in 1854. Among this material is his description of this member of the Ginger family.

'Alpinia' had already been used by Carolus Linnaeus (1753) to name this particular genus after Prospero Alpini (1553-1617). Linnaeus had been grateful to this avid Padovan medical doctor and botanist for his insight that plants - as much as animals - differ sexually, an important aspect of Linnaeus's taxonomy. The 'conchigera', 'having or carrying a '"shell"' - I guess 'scallop' might be appropriate here - is obvious from the photo.

The Malay name is Lengkuas genting, and the Dutch term - longterm colonial power in these regions from Malacca to Indonesia - was derived from that word: 'Lengoewas'. In fact, a synomym for this plant in Latin is 'Lenguas conchigera'

This Alpinia can be found all over this area. Curiously, I haven't really been able to find any comparable photos (but maybe I've looked in the wrong places). These flowers are indeed quite small: not more than about 5 mm. I was surprised that my little Sony T900 was intricate enough to make this shot.

Yes... 'poor' William Griffith... apparently this ginger can be used effectively against liver ailments, as was first demonstrated scientifically around 1890. Too late to save our enterprising botanist.

This photo was taken in that lovely Rimba Ilmu of the University of Malaysia! This morning I saw other examples of the plant in the Lake Gardens herbal garden, but they were not nearly as beautiful...

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Taken on June 8, 2009