Heliconias are one of the main families of tropical flowers we grow. These durable exotic flowers are known throughout the world for their beauty and rightly so. If taken care of properly certain cut heliconia flowers can stay beautiful and look fresh for up to a month! Originally the heliconia family comes from the American Tropics. Over 89 species are recognized, all of which are placed in the single family of Heliconia. There are more than 350 varieties of heliconia all in all, of which about 98 percent are native to tropical America. Heliconia plant sizes vary between 1 1/2-foot dwarfs to 30-foot tree-sized giants. Things grow quickly here in Hawaii and if left unattended jungle patches of Heliconia can grow dense and unpenetrable. Most noticeable are the flower’s bright colors which come in a wide range of hues and combinations from reds, oranges, and whites to greens, yellows and pinks.
Heliconia come in two main orientations, erect and pendent. The difference is easily seen by looking at the bracts, the petal-like “spikes” on the side of the flowers, and which way they are pointed. Erect heliconias stand straight with bracts pointing up. Pendent heliconia hang down with bracts pointed toward the ground. When heliconias were first discovered, they were first classified as part of the banana family because of the similarities in leaves and growing patterns. But as the growers became more familiar with the plant they noticed that heliconias did not produce banana type fruit and a new family was formed for them. Mostly heliconia are grown for their beautiful flowers and used in landscaping, but there are other exotic uses for them as well. If you ever find yourself stranded on a desert island try using the leaves for roof thatching or as a food wrapper like some people do in the Caribbean and Mexico. Or if you get the recipe right as do some natives In Brazil, certain roots and seeds have been known for their medicinal healing properties.
The name “heliconia” actually comes from Greek mythology after the great Mount Helicon. This was the abode of the of the 9 inspirational goddess muses of the arts and sciences. Its hard to think of any other flower that looks more exotic or tropical than the heliconia, with it’s colorful bracts and vibrant appearance it is truly an unique flower.