Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Along with the usual commonly available flowers, we are seeing more and more of the tropical ones. That’s a good thing. Tropicals can serve as an accent by providing unusual forms, colors, and texture to floral design. One of my favorites is the Heliconia.
This also goes by various other common names. Lobster claw refers to the intricately shaped blossoms. Parrot’s flower refers to the flower sheaths that bear a resemblance to a bird’s beak. Also known as rainbow, this alludes to the wonderful mix of bright colors one sees in this unusual flower. The individual blossoms are either pendant or erect. They appear in close clusters along the length of the sturdy stems.
Available year round, Heliconias come in various colors. Often they are bicolor in a colorful mix of yellow, orange, and red with perhaps a touch of green.
As with many tropicals, the Heliconias tend to have a vase life of about two weeks.
What is most interesting about Heliconia stems are that the actual blossoms are rather inconspicuous. Such as they are, the true flowers are concealed by the brightly sheaths or bracts.
Heliconias are in the same family as the banana and the plantain. There are about thirty different species of Heliconias. Native to Mexico and Brazil, these are used as garden plants in warm climates.
In the tropics, some species of Heliconias can grow to be 20 feet tall. The ones that are grown mostly in America as houseplants and greenhouse plants only reach several feet in height. These are fast growing plants. For containers, it is best to choose low growing varieties.
Heliconias are perennial herbaceous plants. The leaves are borne on long leaf stalks that arise from the ground. To encourage a plant to produce a new flush of flowers, try cutting it back. This can be done whether it’s growing in a pot or outdoors in warm, frost-free areas.
When you want new Heliconia plants, the easiest method is to divide the old ones. These plants prefer a rich, moist, organic soil in either full sun or partial shade.
Those Heliconias growing outdoors will need fertilizing several times a year. For container plants, I use a regular soluble plant food at half the strength listed on the label. When growing Heliconia in conservatories and the like in cold climates, fertilize only when the plant is actively growing. These easy to grow plants have few insect problems. However, the foliage can suffer from leaf spot, caused by a fungus.
The plant is named for Mt. Helicon in Greece. In ancient times, this place was said to be the home of the Muses, goddesses of arts and sciences.