Heliconia is also known by a variety of common names including lobster-claws, wild plantains or false bird-of-paradise. The last name refers to their close similarity to the bird-of-paradise flowers, Strelitzia, which they are sometimes mistaken for.
Most plants can grow to a height of between 2 feet and 25 feet. The flowering bracts usually come in bright colours including deep crimson, orange and yellow; and some species often resemble banana plants, which are related.
Although most commonly associated with parts of Central America and Caribbean islands, many species of Heliconia can be found as far afield as Indonesia and Pacific islands such as Tonga and Samoa. Anywhere which lies between the two tropics is often fertile enough ground to grow such a plant.
Despite their origin, some varieties can grow in cooler weather between February and November, although that depends on the temperature (ideally at around 15C or more). If growing in a temperate climate akin to that of the UK or Northern Europe, the best time for these plants is usually during the summer.
There are more than 100 species within the Heliconia genus to speak of. Notable species include Heliconia Angusta, which has red-pink bracts, Heliconia Bourgaena and its red, pink or crimson flowers and Heliconia Caribaea, which as the name suggests is native to the Caribbean.
Some of the smaller species such as Heliconia Angusta can be grown as pot plants, but there are a number of things you need to do to make sure they grow correctly. Most varieties don’t need full sunlight for the entire growing period, but they do require good amounts of moisture. A good fertiliser will help.
Did you know?
Forest hummingbirds often use Heliconia plants as a food source, while Hermit birds often nest in the plants.