The genus Heliconia refers to a group of plants related to gingers, bananas, prayer plants and
Birds of Paradise. There are an estimated 350 species of heliconia, the vast majority are found
in tropical America. With their variety of brilliant colors and sculptural forms, heliconias are among the most
spectacular and abundant plants of the New World Tropics.
These are rhyzomatous, herbaceous plants that range in height from 18 inches to more than 20 feet
tall. The “stems” (pseudostem) are the concentric, sheathing petioles of the paddle-like leaves
each layer giving additional strength to hold the leaves and flowers. As the leaves deteriorate,
the stem collapses. The single inflorescence per growth emerges terminally, standing erectly or
The inflorescence of Heliconia is the usual focus of interest because it is not only complex;
it is usually very colorful to humans and of course to its pollinators the hummingbirds and
insects. The boat-like bracts are colorful, usually in hues of red, yellow, orange and even
pink or combinations of these mixed with green markings and various splashes. The bracts are
smooth in some species to wooly in others. They may be arranged spirally or distichously
(oppositely on one plane) on a central connecting stem called a rachis. Each bract holds
several true flowers, which may protrude boldly or peep shyly from the bracts.