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Heliconia spp. Heliconia

Edward F. Gilman, Alan Meerow, Ryan W. Klein, and Gail Hansen

Introduction

The many species of heliconia are rainforest herbs that occur within the understory or densely at the forest periphery. A few rapidly colonize temporary tree-fall gaps or occur in the open along streams or in disturbed areas. They range from not much more than 1.5 feet in height to nearly 15 feet tall. The relatively inconspicuous flowers are borne in extravagantly colored bracts that are waxy and long lasting and have become high-priced tropical cut flowers. Some of the species bear pendant inflorescences, and these can be as long as several feet.

Full Form - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Psittacorum'.
Figure 1. Full Form - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Psittacorum'.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

 

Full Form - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Vaginalis’.
Figure 2. Full Form - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Vaginalis’.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

 

Flower - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Vaginalis'.
Figure 3. Flower - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Vaginalis'.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

 

Flower - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Hirsuta'.
Figure 4. Flower - Heliconia spp.: Heliconia 'Hirsuta'.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Heliconia spp.

Pronunciation: hel-lick-KOE-nee-uh species

Common name(s): heliconia

Family: Heliconiaceae

Plant type: herbaceous

USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 5)

Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year-round

Origin: not native to North America

Invasive potential: not known to be invasive

Uses: cut flowers; suitable for growing indoors

Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 5. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Credit:

Description

Height: 2 to 15 feet

Spread: 3 to 6 feet

Plant habit: upright

Plant density: open

Growth rate: fast

Texture: coarse

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: ovate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: more than 36 inches

Leaf color: green

Fall color: no fall color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Flower

Flower color: red; yellow; orange

Flower characteristic: spring flowering; summer flowering

Fruit

Fruit shape: unknown

Fruit length: unknown

Fruit cover: unknown

Fruit color: blue

Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically, multi-trunked or clumping stems

Current year stem/twig color: green

Current year stem/twig thickness: very thick

Culture

Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun

Soil tolerances: acidic; alkaline; sand; loam; clay

Drought tolerance: moderate

Soil salt tolerances: moderate

Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches

Other

Roots: not applicable

Winter interest: no special winter interest

Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more

Pest resistance: very sensitive to one or more pests or diseases which can affect plant health or aesthetics

Use and Management

As landscape plants, many Heliconia species are less desirable because of their spreading nature and the tendency of the leaves to become tattered along the veins by wind. H. psittacorum (to 5 feet tall) and its many hybrids (known as Parakeet Flowers), are frequently used as landscape perennials. However, their aggressive spreading nature requires effective root barriers to keep the rhizomes from extending into areas where the plant is not wanted. H. caribaea, well-adapted to alkaline soils, is a tall-grower (to 12 feet) with deep red-bracted inflorescences borne on 2-year-old stems. The many varieties of H. stricta rarely grow taller than 3 feet. Heliconias as a group impart an unmistakable tropical look to the garden. Heliconias can be used as specimen plants, or they can be massed together in groups.

Heliconia species should be grown in full sun to partial shade on a well-drained soil. These perennials have no drought or salt tolerance but will endure wet soils. When these plants are occasionally frozen in the warm parts of Florida, the tops will die back to the ground, but roots will regenerate new shoots with the coming of warm weather.

Propagate the Heliconia species by division.

Pests and Management

These species are relatively pest tolerant.

Publication #FPS249

Release Date:February 12th, 2024

Related Collections

Part of Shrubs Fact Sheets

Related Topics

  • Critical Issue: Agricultural and Food Systems
Organism ID

About this Publication

This document is FPS249, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Revised October 2023. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Alan Meerow, former assoicate professor; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Gail Hansen, professor, sustainable landscape design; Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Contacts

  • Gail Hansen de Chapman
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