Heliconia - Bold and Beautiful - Green Brigade
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Heliconia plants are a stunning addition to any garden or indoor space. With their colorful flowers and unique foliage, they are sure to catch the eye and add a tropical touch to your decor. While they do have some specific care requirements, they are relatively easy to care for and can be propagated easily. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, heliconia are definitely worth considering for your collection.

Heliconia plants are part of the family Heliconiaceae, which contains about 200 species of plants. They are related to bananas and ginger, and share some similar features such as the tall, upright stems with large, broad leaves that grow in a spiral pattern. The flowers of heliconia are perhaps their most striking feature, coming in a range of bright colors such as red, orange, yellow, and pink, often with contrasting patterns or markings.

Flowers range in shape, size and color depending upon the Heliconia variety. The colorful part of the flower is the modified leaf or bract. Heliconia fanciers often refer to the flower shapes as lobster claw, parrot’s beak or pleated fan. Because they are tropical, these plants prefer consistent higher temperatures. There are a few hardy varieties that can tolerate somewhat cooler weather, but all varieties like a semi-tropical or tropical setting to thrive outdoors year-round.

The Basics of Good Heliconia Plant Care

These bold, exotic tropical plants make a real statement in any yard, garden or patio setting. Ranging in foliage shades from bright lemon yellow to a deep burgundy, the substantial blossoms are hard to miss. Some flower bracts are stiff and upright while others hang in pendulous spirals. The genus is made up of approximately 195 species, and most of them come from South and Central America. In the South Pacific, you’ll find a half a dozen separately evolved species which all produce green flowers. In India some varieties are being cultivated for cut flowers and landscapes.

Because these plants grow from rhizomes, they spread quickly in an ideal environment. Like other rhizomatous plants, they may provide some value in areas that need protection from erosion. Because they like to grow in consistently moist soil, they may be good candidates for occupying low-lying areas of the landscape where other plants might be subject to root rot.

These plants are herbaceous (non-woody). Like the banana plant, these plants have a pseudo stem, made of leaf petiole sheaths that overlap to support the weight of the flowers and the leaves. Each of these stems flower just once. When flowering is complete, the pseudo stem collapses, dries up and dies. For this reason, it is wisest to cut the pseudo stem back entirely when the flowers fade. This helps the plant conserve energy and presents a tidier appearance. Although some plants like full sun, the most natural setting for them is partial shade. In the wild, they are found in forest clearings where they get bright, dappled sunlight. They also like to grow on river banks where they can get good sun and consistent water.

Heliconia growing conditions

Like all plants the Heliconia will do best when given the right conditions. Let’s take a look at what they need to make them thrive.

Keep the soil light, airy and rich
These plants thrive in a well-draining soil and generously amended with decaying organic matter, which provides a natural source of nourishment. A combination of leaf compost, garden loam and a bit of sand makes a planting mix rich in nutrients and resists becoming compacted.

Provide Ample Light for Vigorous Flowering
Although heliconia grow in forests in the wild, remember that they choose to be in clearings where they will receive a minimum of six hours of bright light daily. This is necessary for abundant and constant flowering. When kept in lower light, the plants produce lots of lush leaves but fewer flowers. Lower light also causes plants to gain more height as they reach for the sun.

Provide Ample, Consistent Watering
Heliconia likes to be watered, and the soil should be kept consistently and uniformly moist. In very hot climates, you may need to water a couple of times daily. Water at ground level  rather than spraying the plants as splashing water can carry fungal spores to the leaves causing damage. If you find you have a problem with root rot as indicated by curling leaves and/or brown leaves, it is an indication your soil is not light and airy enough. Amend it to create a more freely draining soil mixture. Keep in mind that this watering routine does not apply to freshly planted rhizomes. Remember that they can be subject to root rot because they do not yet have any foliage and flowers to drink up excess water

Heliconias Love Fertilizer
Some growers do not fertilize, choosing instead to supply nourishment through different types of organic fertilizers to build a soil rich in organic matter, a large plant with lots of blooms will happily consume a great deal of fertilizer. If your goal is to grow a monster plant, bone meal wins the Heliconia plant favorite food contest every time. For consistent feeding of average sized plants, best fertilizer for heliconia is a good quality, slow time-release fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 2-1-2 is a good choice.

Pruning and Maintaining Your Heliconia
Heliconia plants do not require a lot of pruning. They shape themselves, and since the leaves are long fronds, several feet in length, trimming them is not necessary or desirable. When you do remove a leaf, you should remove it entirely. If your plants have so many leaves that make it difficult to see the flowers, completely remove the obstructing leaves by cutting them all the way back. When cutting flowers from smaller varieties, cut them off at ground level as this allows more light into the beds and encourages side shoot growth. Thoroughly remove damaged or dead leaves, and trim away dead flower stems entirely. To do this, chop them back as near to the ground as you can. When the stump has dried up, just remove the remainder with your fingers.

Heliconia pests and diseases
Healthy wild heliconia planted outdoors have little or no trouble with pests. Some growers note that ants like to travel about on the plants and enjoy the nectar of the flowers, but they don’t seem to do any harm. Birds may damage the plants a bit, but sharing with them won’t cause too much harm. Rats and mice may eat various parts of the plant. If this happens, you will naturally need to deal with them by calling in a pest control specialist, setting traps and/or making careful and responsible use of poisons. Take care not to harm beneficial wildlife!

Propagation of heliconia
It is rare to propagate these plants by seed as doing so is a lengthy and inconsistent process. Most nurseries and online vendors of Heliconia rhizomes for sale offer segments, which are easy to plant and grow. Just follow these steps:
1. Dip the segments into a mild fungicidal solution.
2. Plant in a free-draining soil mixture with the tip (bud or eye) of the rhizome just barely exposed.
3. Firm the soil lightly around the rhizome and add more if needed.
4. Water moderately till sprouting of leaves

Select the right variety for your setting
The first step toward success with Heliconia is careful selection. Making the right choice for your space will help ensure your plant fits in gracefully and does not overpower your garden. Remember some of the larger species can attain heights of fifteen feet or more, so these might make a good houseplant for one season, but after that, you will need to think of something to do with them.

Dwarf varieties stay smallish, topping out at about a foot and a half to three feet high. These plants can make wonderful, houseplants for many years. In addition to height, keep bloom time in mind. All heliconia are long blooming, but some varieties (Heliconia psittacorum) bloom year-round, making them even more desirable as houseplants.

Heliconia varieties

Heliconia Psittacorum

Commonly known as Parakeet Flower, it is the most popular type of Heliconia. There is a great deal of choice to be had within this easy-to-grow variety. The plant is relatively compact, ranging from one to six feet high. The blossom clusters are relatively small at only seven inches in length. Bract colors vary, and you may find orange, red, cream colored and multi-colored bracts on the same plant.

Heliconia Angusta
Heliconia angusta is commonly called the Christmas heliconia because its red and white inflorescences and you can count on festive color as this plant produces pinkish-red bracts with green and white sepals. This variety is quite small and usually stay at about two feet high. Under ideal conditions, it can grow to four feet high. This is a shade loving variety, so it is a great choice as a houseplant or as a container plant on a shaded deck or patio.

Heliconia Bourgaeana

They are larger plants attaining heights ranging from four to six feet. These showy plants produce dramatic bracts of flowers in red, crimson and pink with a black distal lip. The shoots and main stalk are also quite dramatic in a deep shade of purple. These plants require full sun and are an excellent choice for a large, outdoor garden in a tropical setting.

Heliconia BihaiThis heliconia is grown for spectacular flowers and tropical foliage. It is native to South America but grown extensively in India now.  This large plant’s banana-like leaves grow directly from thick, quickly spreading rhizomes or underground, lateral stems. This is the perfect plant to impart a tropical look to any landscape.

Heliconia Caribea
The plant ranges in height from seven to twenty feet. Its leaves are similar to those of banana plants and can reach five feet long. Lower leaves and stems at the base of the plant exhibit a white, waxy coating. The plant produces immense, erect bracts in red and/or yellow and blossom clusters in white with greenish tips. Flowers come in all colors and shades. These plants prefer full sun, but they can tolerate as much as sixty percent shade.

Heliconia rostrata
Commonly known as the “Hanging Lobster Claw”, it is very popular because of its colorful, unusual inflorescences. This plant produces large, pendulous, bright red blooms in dazzlingly yellow bracts that can reach lengths of three feet. When the plant is grown in the ground, in an ideal setting, it may grow as tall as eight feet. When kept in a container, it usually grows to between four and five feet high.

Heliconia Vellerigera

A truly spectacular hanging flower plant.  It is a medium sized heliconia, reaching 6-10 feet tall.  The leaves are light purple on the underside. The flowers are covered with a type of spider like hairs. It blooms throughout the year.

Heliconia Chartacea
Heliconia chartacea is characterized by its large, pendulous and colorful bracts, which can be red, yellow, orange, or pink, and they are arranged in a spiral pattern along the stem. The plant can grow up to 3 meters tall and requires a warm, humid climate to thrive. They are a popular choice for landscaping and is often used to add color and texture to gardens and outdoor spaces. It is also used in the floral industry, where the bracts are used in floral arrangements and displays.

Heliconia Orthotricha
It is a medium-sized heliconia that grows up to 4-6 feet tall and produces erect inflorescences with showy bracts that range in color from green to yellow to orange. The bracts of Heliconia orthotricha are characterized by their dense covering of fine, silvery hairs (trichomes) that give them a velvety texture. The flowers and foliage make the plant popular as an ornamental in tropical gardens and as a cut flower for floral arrangements.

Heliconia Griggsiana
Heliconia Griggsiana is a medium-sized heliconia that can grow up to 3-4 meters tall and produces pendulous inflorescences with bright red and yellow bracts. The bracts of Heliconia griggsiana are tubular and overlap to form a spiral pattern around the stem, creating a striking and colorful display. The true flowers are small and are located on the inflorescence.

Heliconia Collinsiana
Heliconia collinsiana is a large heliconia that can grow up to 6 meters tall and produces erect inflorescences with colorful bracts. The bracts of Heliconia collinsiana are yellow-green, with red margins and tips, and are arranged in a spiral pattern along the stem. They have waxy white stems and undersides of leaves with long, pendulous bracts. A nice feature plant in a warm sheltered position.

Heliconia Longissima
It is a tall heliconia that can grow up to 10 meters tall and produces pendulous inflorescences with green and yellow bracts. The bracts of Heliconia longissima are long and narrow, giving the plant its common name of “hanging lobster claw”. The red bracts are arranged alternately on wavy rachis. The yellow flowers are half-hidden inside the showy bracts.

Heliconia Lingulata
It is a medium-sized heliconia that can grow up to 3 meters tall and produces erect inflorescences with bright red and yellow bracts. The bracts of Heliconia lingulata are narrow and elongated, with a curved or twisted shape, and are arranged in a spiral pattern along the stem.

Heliconia Champneiana
It is a medium to large-sized heliconia that can grow up to 5 meters tall and produces erect inflorescences with colorful bracts. The bracts of Heliconia champneiana are red and yellow with speckles on them, giving the plant its distinctive “splash” pattern. An unusual looking heliconia.

Heliconia Stricta

One of the smaller heliconia with bright red flower bracts with dark green edges. A great under-story plant in tropical gardens. Makes a great pot plant. The plant typically reaches a height of 1 – 1.5 meters, and has paddle-shaped leaves that can grow up to 60cm in length. The inflorescence of Heliconia stricta is composed of brightly colored bracts, which are arranged in a spiral pattern around the stem. Heliconia stricta is a popular ornamental plant, and is often used in landscaping and gardening.

Heliconia Xanthovillosa
The most amazing heliconia to date! Bracts are pendant and bright yellow to yellow-green with silvery yellow woolly hairs covering the entire bract. It is a showstopper for any garden. Brilliant yellow hairs cover this angular pendent beautifully.

Commercial value

Heliconia plants and flowers have great commercial potential in India due to their unique and exotic appearance, as well as their versatility in use. Here are some potential commercial prospects for Heliconia plants and flowers in India:

Floriculture – Heliconia flowers are often used in the floriculture industry for their bright colors and unusual shape. They can be used in floral arrangements, bouquets, and as cut flowers. The demand for unique and exotic flowers is increasing in India, making heliconia flowers a popular choice among florists and customers.

Landscaping – Heliconia plants are also used for landscaping in parks, gardens, and other public spaces. They can add a tropical touch to the landscape and are easy to maintain. The demand for landscaping services is increasing in India due to the growth of the real estate sector and urbanization, making heliconia plants a valuable addition to any landscaping project.

Medicinal properties – Heliconia plants have been found to have medicinal properties and are used in traditional medicine for treating various ailments. The extract from heliconia flowers has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.