Heliconia: False bird-of-paradise

Family: Heliconiaceae
Common name: False bird-of-paradise, Lobster-claws, Toucan beak, Wild plantains

Heliconias are a species of simple plants with brilliantly shaped flowers that are unique and eye-catching. Some flowers point upwards, some downwards, most of them in neat uniform designs; and vivid colors of red, yellow, pink, orange and green. There are close to 200 species of Heliconias growing in all parts of the world, mostly grown as ornamental plants.

Many of these are threatened species, mostly seen in the wild. The plants can grow to a height of 1-4.5 meters depending on the species. The leaves are very similar to Canna or Bird of paradise plants; long, glossy, like small banana leaves. But once they start flowering, the plants are true eye-catchers, lighting up your garden with their bright inflorescence.

These brightly-colored parts of the plant are actually over-grown bracts, with the actual flowers peeping out from inside them. Their bright coloring attracts bats, bees and butterflies, but the shape of the flowers restrict the number of species that can pollinate these plants. Some species of bats use the leaves of Heliconia plants to make tents to live in.

These plants grow out of rhizomes like Canna, and can spread over an area, producing small plants all around the parent plants. The fruits are blue or bluish-purple in color. Heliconia Rostrata is one of the more popular species, seen commonly in Indian gardens.

Propagation is from root rhizomes.

Photo Courtesy: Durga Prasad

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