After the palm, the heliconia is perhaps most indicative of the Costa Rican tropics (…insert pause for arguments from people who disagree….), and there are so many of them.
At first, I thought all heliconia were tall and red. Please excuse me. I was a newbie from the States. Then, for about six months, I called the parrot’s heliconia bird of paradise until someone pointed out my error. Again, I was a newbie from the States, and they really do
look like bird of paradise.
Anyway, I am here to apologize to all the heliconia lovers who read this column. They are indeed worthy of their own time and space, so here it goes.
Plants in the Heliconia family can do it all and do it well. If you are looking for a bedding plant for cut flowers, the parrot’s heliconia is perfect. They grow to a little over a meter (about 3.5 to 4 feet). You can line the driveway with them or plant them in front of the house for good effect. The rhizomes can become invasive and they self-seed so take some care with them.
For the other members of the family, wow, they can be amazing. Some of the inflorescences are upright and some pendulant, but they are all spectacular. There are even fuzzy flowers (heliconia denielsiana) and flowers that look like the beak of a parrot (Heliconia psittacorum).
Most of the flowers tend to be on the large side, but for those who want a more delicate flower, the heliconia irrsa and heliconia latispatha can be good choices. The flowers on these plants are separated on the inflorescence and give the impression of an open ladder.
Heliconia are easy to grow and can be used as an attractive hedge or as a specimen grouping. The flower bases are usually yellow or white, while the flowers themselves are red, yellow, red-purple, orange, and a range between. Most heliconia bloom all year long, and all flowers are long lasting after they are cut. Flowers and their seeds are attractive to birds and other wildlife, so watch your plantings for visitors.
Choose your heliconia wisely. Remember, some varieties can grow to 8 meters (about 26 feet) and can quickly overtake windows. Most heliconia do very well in full sun and moist soil and need little care. If your stand of heliconia is getting too large, simply dig some out and move them to a new location (or give them to a neighbor).
All in all, a great, year-round, easy-care plant for the garden.