Heliconia is the only genus of the family Heliconiaceae. There are varying estimates of species number that range from 100-250. Most occur in tropical America but a few species occur on islands in the Pacific. Plants are rhizomatous with a pronounced pseudostem and broad leaves. Size of plants vary depending on species and could range from approximately 30 cm to several meters tall. Two basic types of inflorescences developed during the evolution of these plants: the upright and pendant forms. Pollination is either by birds (the Americas) or bats (Pacific). Bird pollinated flowers tend to have very brightly colored bracts whereas bat pollinated flowers tend to be rather dull, often times a light shade of green.
Heliconias require warm temperatures, soil rich in humus, lots of water, and fertilizers with plenty of potassium. Propagation is by rhizomes and seeds. Some species respond well to rhizome division whereas others do not. Divisions of rhizomes are most successful when 2-3 mature pseudostems are attached (pseudostems should be cut off before repotting). Precaution should be taken to prevent pathogenic fungal infections. Seed germination can take anywhere from 2 weeks to over a year, depending on the species. Bottom heat aids in successful propagation. In cultivation, some species spread quickly by rhizomes and in some cases can be invasive. Others form tight clumps and are slow-growing.
Heliconia caribaea grows in a dense clump about 8-10 feet (2.5-3 m) and once mature can produce numerous inflorescences. This species comes in several forms. Plants pictured below are grown by Jacob Uluwehi Knecht. Photos 1-2 were taken by Nhu Nguyen of the red form. Photos 3-5 were taken by Jacob Uluwehi Knecht of the yellow form showing the whole plant and various developmental stages of the inflorescence.
Heliconia hirsuta 'Costa Flores' is native to Mexico, Brazil and Peru. Photo taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia indica is native to a number of South Pacific islands such as Vanuatu, Sulawesi, Indonesia, and New Caledonia. Because of its island range, there are many forms of this species, each one spectacular as the next! The leaves range from green to various shades of red. Flowers are always green, which is an indication of bat pollination. Photo taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia lennartiana is native to Panama. It is a dwarf species but is a vigorous grower. Plants should be divided every 3-4 years to maintain vigor. Photo taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia mutisiana is native to Colombia. It is a slow growing species, forming a tight clump. Photos taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia pendula is native to Guyana and northern South America. Photos taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia rostrata is native to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It prefers partial/filtered to full sun. Photo taken by Nhu Nguyen.
Heliconia stilesii is native to Costa Rica. Pseudostems are spaced far apart on rhizomes, forming a large clump. Photo taken by Nhu Nguyen.