Curcuma or Cootie?

Over the years I’ve grown lots of different plants from bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and corms. I often laughed when planting instructions provide information on what is the top of the bulb and what is the bottom. I thought it was obvious… that is until this past week.

Recently I’ve been growing more tropical plants in the summer garden. I have the standard canna lilies and hibiscus but I also like to try growing more unusual plants. This year I found rhizomes of curcuma for sale at Roberta’s Unique Gardens and knew that this was the new tropical for 2012.


Curcuma (Curcuma alismatifolia) aren’t very common. I’d never heard of the flower until a few years ago when I was working for a florist and we used them for a wedding. This member of the ginger family is originally from Nepal and has interesting flowers that are sometimes called Siam Tulips.

The rhizomes of the curcuma arrived this week and when I opened the package, I was shocked. I didn’t know whether I was looking at a plant or a “cootie” from the ’60’s Hasbro game! There was a small knob of tissue that had some roots coming off of it, each ending in a bulbous knob. All I could think was “What the….?”

I might have laugh at planting guides in the past, but this time I read it closely. I thought I knew what was the top and what was the bottom but I had to check to make sure since this didn’t look like any rhizome I’d ever seen.

Curcuma Rhizome/Root Structure

Rhizomes are fleshy stems used for storage of food and water. Plants like iris, canna lilies and ginger produce rhizomes. However the curcuma goes one step further in storing food and water. It develops a rhizome but also produces marble-like knobs on its roots for additional storage. The top of the plant is the rhizome; the knobs are the bottom.

The curcuma has already been a learning experience for me. Now that I know “which end is up,” I’ll be planting them in the coming week and will look forward to seeing this interesting tropical grow and bloom.

And I’ll never laugh at a planting guide again!


12 responses to “Curcuma or Cootie?

  1. Barbara Hamaker

    Hi, I am trying to find the name of a rhizome plant someone had thrown away years ago that I rescued and since has produced 4 or 5 beautiful pots of broad leaved single stalk dark green leaves, coming out of the rhizome. Very slow grower; needs little water; both indoor and outdoor; seems to be almost indestructible. It has never flowered but then I never fed it flower food…it resembles your Curcuma–the leaf veins are also similar to your photo. Is this a Curcuma? thanks!

  2. I’ve inherited a few Curcumas at work, so was interested to see this blog, I’m looking forward to repotting them now! Good luck with yours.

    • Mine didn’t survive the winter but they’re a cool plant to grow – hope you’re do well!

      • It sounds like cast iron plant or aspidistra. They grow in the ground in Louisiana or in pots as ornamentals…Very popular in Victorian times and yes it does produce a small flower…hidden in the leaves. I have grown up with aspidistra all my life and didn’t notice them until I was in my late 30s.

      • I’m not sure if the two are related – they might be. The only contact with aspidistra that I’ve had is in the flower shop – it’s a common foliage though I have heard of it as a house plant here in the North.

  3. curcuma flowers is very beautiful, nice for landscape plant…

  4. Mine died Bck this winter, Ina hot house, will they come back this summer after I cut all the dead leaves off

    • I would think that they should since they die back in the fall naturally – mine died because they got too cold but if they’re in a protected place, they should come back. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s