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There are over 1000 species of Gingers in the Zingiberaceae family. They are widely scattered throughout the tropical regions of the world, with the heaviest concentration in the Indo-Malaysia area. Some species are grown for their ornamental foliage and flowers, while others are used to make dyes, perfumes, medicines, spices, and condiments. Flowers are borne either on the leafy vegetative stems or on a separate leafless flowering stalk.
Most of the over 150 species of Heliconia, in the family Heliconiaceae, are native to central and South America. A few are found on various islands in the South Pacific. Different species range in height from 2 to 20 feet and are easily distinguished by their long leaf stems. The colorful, boat-shaped bracts are on either erect or pendant stems and usually conceal the small true flowers within. The leaves are used for roof construction and wrappings for food, while the long lasting ornamental bracts are prized for cut flower arrangements.
The genus Bauhinia is popular for its brightly colored five-petaled flowers that resemble orchids. There are about 250 species distributed throughout the tropics. They can usually be recognized by their deeply lobed leaves which look like paired leaflets. Bauhinias, in the legume or Fabaceae family, all bear flattened, double-seamed seedpods.
Bauhinia variegata is cultivated in India for its bark used for tanning and dyeing and its wood, called mountain ebony. The seeds of B. petersiana are eaten in Africa and used as a substitute for coffee.
Bauhinias are frequently used in landscaping because they are compact and prolific flowerers. B. x blakeana, commonly called the Hong Kong Orchid Tree, is widely used as a street tree because it never sets seed nor even drops pods. Many Bauhinias are climbers. You can see the large leaves and coiling tendrils of B. vahlii, covering the monkeypod tree overhead. This genus of “twin-leaved” plants was named by Linnaeus for John and Caspar Bauhin, twin Swiss botanists of the 16th century.