Variety makes Heliconia perfect for nearly every occasion.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
Lobster claw, False bird-of-paradise
1 SUCH DRAMA. Pronounced “hel-i-KO-nee-a,”
these tropical blossoms are grown for their brilliant, unusual flower
heads (bracts), which rise from clumps of bananalike leaves. Heliconias’
size and height vary greatly depending on species. Some are as short as
2 feet, and some grow to 25 feet in height. The colorful bracts may be
erect, pendulous or spiraling. They take on the shapes of birds’ beaks,
lobster claws or fans.
2 CONFUSED FAMILIES. The family
Heliconiaceae contains a single genus, with 200 to 250 species.
Heliconias once were grouped in the Musaceae (banana) family and the
Strelitziaceae (“birds-of-paradise” and relatives) family. Heliconias
are native to South America, Central America, Southeast Asia and the
Southwest Pacific islands. Visit www.heliconiasocietypr.org to view
nearly all varieties in production.
3 GREEKS HAVE THE NAME. Heliconia
refers to Mount Helicon in Greece. Helicon was home to Apollo and the
Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus and goddesses of the arts and
sciences. The Muses were said to be eternally young and beautiful. The
name Heliconia refers to the long-lasting and attractive qualities of
4 THE ENTIRE YEAR. Heliconias are
available year-round depending on the variety and growing area. Major
Heliconia producing areas are located in Central and South America;
Hawaii; tropical Africa; Queensland, Australia and Southeast Asia. In
addition, Heliconias are available year-round from Dutch sources.
5 AMAZING COLORS. Most Heliconias
have more than one color in the blossoms, and many almost seem to be
painted. The colors include reds, pinks, yellows and oranges.
6 BEST SELECTION. Heliconia blossoms
need to be harvested and chosen at their peak of maturity because they
do not develop after they are cut. Look for blossoms that have high
gloss and vivid color, and request colors and forms according to design
needs. Don’t purchase Heliconias too far in advance.
7 EASY CARE. Unpack Heliconias
immediately upon arrival. Recut the stems, and place them into fresh
flower food solution. Do not submerge Heliconias in water as is often
done with gingers or Anthuriums. To remove the white powder that
sometimes covers the flowers, sponge the areas with a room-temperature
solution of soap that contains a few drops of cooking oil, then rinse
with fresh water and allow to dry. Plant shine also can be used to
achieve this step. It is beneficial to recut Heliconia stems and change
the solution every other day.
8 SOME LIKE IT HOT. Heliconias are
sensitive to cold temperatures, so never expose these flowers to
temperatures below 50 F. If refrigeration is required, adjust storage
temperature to 55 F.
9 LONG LASTING. Heliconias’ long
vase lives make them a good choice for commercial designs and other
arrangements that are expected to last a week or more. Consumers can
enjoy Heliconias for up to three weeks, depending on the variety and
care and handling procedures that have been followed.
10 HUMMING A SAD TUNE. In many
regions where Heliconias grow, hummingbirds feed on and pollinate the
blossoms. Bats also are instrumental in pollinating these flowers in the
Pacific region. Many species of Heliconias will decline rapidly once
they become pollinated. If the flowers begin shedding or discoloring
suddenly, this may be the problem.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of
horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27
years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.
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