Cheilocostus speciosus is a large, fast-growing ginger native to tropical Asia. A few years ago the Costus genus was split into several genera, separating the African species from the Asian species, and this plant is now correctly known as Cheilocostus speciosus but most nurseries still list it under the Costus genus. It is one of the spiral gingers and this species grows some of the best spirals in the group.
The plant can grow 8-10 foot tall and wide in a single season and flowers start forming on the tip of each cane by early summer. Even after a hard freeze, new growth quickly comes into bloom. As the canes reach their mature height, a reddish cluster of bracts forms on the tip. Pink flower buds quickly develop and the bracts secrete a sugary substance that is well-liked by ants.
The buds open into a large, white, tissue-paper-like flower over 3 inches in diameter. Flowers open singly or a few at a time through the summer. The flower is the reason this is sometimes called the Crepe Ginger.
Even after the flowers have finished, the remaining red bracts provide long-lasting color into the fall. The cone-like bract formation can reach 8 inches in length.
The plant will grow in either sun or shade, but looks its best where it gets at least a little shade during the hottest part of the day. This is supposed to be the most cold-hardy among the spiral gingers and is recommended for USDA Zones 7-12.
There are various select varieties in cultivation which vary in growing height or leaf variegation. The rhizomes of Cheilocostus speciosus are not considered edible, but various cultures do attribute medicinal qualities to them.