Heliconias – Grasp Gardener Program

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Colourful tropical flowers together with heliconias, gingers and hen of paradise.

Heliconias are one of the crucial showy, distinctively tropical flowers with lovely, sensible colourful flowering bracts. There may be solely a single genus (Heliconia) within the household Heliconiaceae, with about 200 species. Most are native to the neotropics (tropical America), however some are from the Pacific Islands west to Indonesia. Previously labeled within the banana household (Musaceae), the leaves and their normal form do resemble banana and hen of paradise (Strelitziaceae), however the flowers are very totally different. They’re one of the crucial frequent floral elements of the understory of moist neotropical forests at low and mid elevations. Many sorts are grown for the florist’s commerce and as panorama crops. A number of cultivars and hybrids have been chosen for backyard planting in tropical areas. As a result of they don’t seem to be in any respect frost hardy, they must be grown as container crops within the Midwest — or simply loved as long-lived reduce flowers imported from milder climates. The smaller cultivars shall be best to maintain as container crops; most want full solar, humidity and heat situations year-round, making them difficult to develop in our local weather.

These are medium to giant crops, usually with intensive rhizomatous progress, that may be as much as 30 ft tall and will type giant clumps. Every erect stem is technically a pseudostem, made up of many overlapping sheathing leaf bases. Every stem has numerous banana-like leaves organized in a single airplane (distichous) and sometimes, though not at all times, has a terminal inflorescence. Leaves are normally inexperienced, however some could also be tinted maroon or purple under. In some species the blades break up with age, or have a white, waxy coating. The top of the leaf is sort of at all times pointed and the bottom is almost at all times unequal, with one facet extending farther alongside the petiole than the opposite facet. There are three primary kinds of leaf association discovered within the genus Heliconia, that are usually fixed inside a species. The leaves could also be upright with lengthy petioles — with the expansion behavior of a banana plant (“musoid”); roughly horizontal with quick petioles — the way in which a ginger plant grows (“zingiberoid”); or have quick to medium-length petioles and blades held obliquely — just like that in Canna (“cannoid”). Some crops could also be intermediate between these primary kinds.

Heliconias are medium (L) to tall crops (LC and C), with banana-like leaves (RC) that will break up with age (R).

As soon as a plant is mature, every shoot has the potential to generate a single inflorescence. The inflorescences are virtually at all times terminal and could also be both erect or pendent. Erect heliconias stand straight with bracts pointing up. Pendent heliconias cling down with bracts pointed towards the bottom. The inflorescence is made up of the peduncle (the a part of the stem between the terminal leaf sheath and the basal bract), inflorescence bracts (additionally know as spathes), the rachis connecting adjoining bracts, and a coil of flowers inside every bract. The rachis might differ from the bracts in colour and texture and is both straight or zigzag. The bracts are both distichous or are spirally organized resulting from twisting of the rachis. In some species, the rachis is just barely twisted, making the bracts semispirally organized or are distichous when younger, however change into spiral as all of the bracts mature.

Inflorescences of Heliconia caribaea cv. purpurea (L), H. psittacorum (LC), a pendent species with a inexperienced basalisk lizard (C), H. longa (RC), and the fuzzy bracts of a hybrid (R).

The inflorescence bracts are normally shiny purple, yellow or each, however they’re generally inexperienced, orange, purple or pink, and could also be clean or fuzzy. The pretty inconspicuous inexperienced, yellow, or orange flowers are enclosed by the spectacular, long-lasting waxy bracts. Every bract has as much as 50 flowers, the quantity relying on the species.

Colourful erect bracts of H. wagneriana (L) and the inconspicuous inexperienced flowers poking up from one bract (LC), and pendent inflorescence of H. chartacea ‘Horny Pink’ (RC) and the small inexperienced flowers of that cultivar sticking down from the inverted bract (R).

The mature fruit of Heliconia is a drupe (like a peach), with a tough internal layer enclosing every of the true seeds (one to 3 per fruit). The outer layer of the fruit is fleshy and at maturity the floor layer turns into blue in American species or purple to orange in South Pacific species. The colourful fruits are very enticing to the birds and mammals that disperse the seeds. The inflorescence might final from a number of days to a number of months, however finally ceases to supply flowers and fruits, turns brown, and dries up or rots away. After that your entire shoot may also die as new shoots start to develop from the underground rhizomes.

Heliconia fruits enclosed inside bract (L) or uncovered (C, RC and R).

The flashy colours of the bracts entice the hummingbirds that pollinate the flowers. The flowers are available in a wide range of lengths and shapes, which correspond to the size and form of the invoice of their pollinator. Curved flowers are tailored to pollination by hermits which have lengthy, curved payments. Different hummingbird species pollinate totally different Heliconia species, which deposit pollen on totally different components of the hen making switch of the pollen to the subsequent particular person of that species more likely to happen. Different nectar-feeding birds may also go to the flowers.

A hermit at Heliconia rostrata (L), male green-crowned sensible perched on heliconai bract whereas feeding (LC), rufus-tailed hummingbird at H. caribaea (C) and at H. rostrata (RC), and black-cowled oriole at heliconia flower (R).

Heliconias are necessary to different birds and animals as effectively, each for meals and shelter. A few of the hermits additionally use the plant for nesting, attaching their elongated nests to a strip of leaf torn away from the blade in order that the leaf supplies an overhang for the nest. Furled leaves present hiding locations for spiders, frogs and disk-winged bats. Many tiny aquatic organisms reside in water that collects within the bracts of species with erect inflorescences.

Water collected in erect bracts (L) helps aquatic organisms, together with mosquito larvae (R).

Honduran white bats (Ectophylla alba) and at the least two different species of bats roost in “tents” they make by chewing the facet veins alongside alongside the leaf midvein to make the leaf droop down on each side.

Honduran white bats inside tent (LC-R) created by bat chewing on heliconia leaf (L).

The larvae of owl butterflies (Caligo spp.) feed on heliconia leaves and all phases of the heliconia bug, Leptoscelis tricolor, are spend on the inflorescences.

Owl butterfly grownup (L), giant caterpillars alongside leaf midvein (LC), and enormous caterpillars (RC), and heliconia bug (R).

Inflorescences of Heliconia psittacorum x spathocircinata ‘Guyana’ (L), H. rostrata (LC), H. imbricata (C), H. wagneriana (RC), and H. mariae (R).

– Susan Mahr, College of Wisconsin – Madison


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