November 21st, 2011
Elettaria cardamomum

cardamom plant

Cardomom is a plant that’s doomed to fail with me. And yet I bought it anyway. Such is the impulsive acquisitiveness of a gardener confronted with a rare plant.

Elettaria cardamomum, true cardamom, is a tropical plant related to gingers. It thrives in the jungle understory where it receives filtered sunlight, 150 inches of rain a year (it likes its roots constantly moist), and a constant temperature in the 70s. Cardamom is unhappy when temperatures dip below 50. Such a climate is about as alien to central Texas as can be imagined. In Austin we experience temperatures from the teens to the hundreds, searing sunlight, and (now that we’re in semi-desert mode) 12 inches of rain.

Cardomom can grow into a huge plant, 12 feet tall and wide. However, it is unlikely ever to get out of a pot in Austin. Even if I built it its own special hot house, it probably will never flower much less set fruit and provide any of the special seeds used to spice Indian curries and Scandinavian baked goods.

Garden History

2011-11-19.
Pot up the cardamom. I decide to divide the plant in half for several reasons. Roots are coming out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Also the inside leaves of the plant have yellowed. Finally, it’s easier for me to move smaller pots in and out of the house all winter, as we do in central Texas where winter temperatures vary from the 80s to the 20s and back again overnight.
cardamom plant
I cut the plant out of it’s pot. As I suspected, it’s pretty root-bound. The rhizomes look similar to ginger so I don’t think it will be any problem to divide.
cardamom plant
I use my Japanese digging knife (from Lee Valley–unsolicited and unpaid recommendation) to cut through the crown of the plant and then pry the roots apart. Crown is probably the wrong word. Like its ginger relative, the cardamom plant is a group of tightly packed rhizomes. I might have cut through a few but mostly I was just wedging them apart.
cardamom plant
A slip falls away and I pot it up separately.
cardamom plant

by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas

11 Responses to post “Elettaria cardamomum”

  1. From Annie in Austin:

    You may find out that Henry Mitchell was right to say that “Temptation is the mother of excellence” – what fun to see cardamon as a plant instead of ground spice in a bottle!

    MSS, I love that you split up the bargain plant to have two… a few years ago I realized there were two dwarf pomegranate plants in a 1 gallon pot. Today both dwarf pomegranates are in bloom in different parts of the garden. Good luck!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I think one of the joys I find in gardening is the realization of growth and abundance. Nurture a little seed and you get a plant. Cultivate a plant and it repays you in fruits or tubers. Flowers are a pretty bonus but I get my true joy from gathering seeds and dividing bulbs. Even as I’ve given up the act of “making” a garden, planting, cultivating, dividing and harvesting are the acts that keep me in the garden. — mss

  2. From Raffi / Gardenology.org:

    I bought one of these and planted it outdoors in L.A. It’s spread quite a bit, but it’s all about 3 or 4 feet high. I’ve just brought some indoors in a pot and given some divisions away.

    I was told you can use the leaves in cooking like bay leaves. I haven’t tried it yet, but they’re so fragrant I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked well.

  3. From Steve Mudge (Huntington Beach, CA):

    I’ll have to try those now that I’m back in California—lots of different Gingers/Helichonias/Elettaria/Alpinia, etc. for sale since I lived here 5 years ago.

  4. From CĂ©line Salisbury (France):

    I like the photo of the texas bluebonnet.

    Looks just like a Lupin we have here at Botanic Bay (http://www.botanicbay.com)

    Is it a type of lupin ?

    Yes. It’s Lupinus texensis.

  5. From Brandon - India:

    Cardamon grows wildly as well here in India and I’ve tried it just once, it managed to grow but never bore fruit. I tried again and again – about 5 times and finally I got a plant that bears plenty and is more than enough for my kitchen :)
    I’m sure you’ll do well especially after all the hard work you put in.

  6. From Nell Jean:

    I’m crazy about this plant! Root-hardy here and very late to die back in the fall. Mine grows in dry shade under an old live oak and I water it when I think of it. It doesn’t seem to mind.

    I potted up some to keep green inside because I love to stroke the leaves to get that Christmas potpourri fragrance they give off.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that it thrives in dry shade. The information I read said that it required almost 1/2 an inch of water a day. I hope you’re right. — mss

  7. From Kenneth Moore, Washington DC:

    Hi! I stumbled across your website/blog while trying to find cardamom seeds. Where did you buy your cardamom? A local nursery? I have to keep my eye out for some in the spring!

    I bought them at a local nursery: Barton Springs Nursery in Austin, TX. — mss

  8. From Angelina in McMinnville:

    I’ve never seen the cardamom plant before – we have all the rain here that tropicals could desire but not enough of the warmth. Still, the farm I get most of my produce from grows ginger and they have started selling the fresh ginger root (rhizome)in their stall. I was so surprised.

  9. From Debra in Michigan:

    This is a very beautiful plant. Although tricky, cardamom has a much better chance of surviving with you than it does in my Michigan climate.

  10. From Reed:

    Really enjoyed your style of writing.
    The picture are quite stellar! Can’t wait to read more!

    Keep it up!

    Visit you soon,
    Reed

  11. From Dan The Gardener:

    Cardamom plant is such an interesting one! For how long will it bear that special seeds? :-)