Heliconias That Like Wet Feet
by Carla Black, Volcán, Chiriquí,
República de Panamá
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Some species of one of the world's showiest
are great additions around, even in, the pond!
Click images to enlarge
Advice for growing Heliconias usually sounds like this,
"Provide bright light and even moisture in rich, well-drained
soil." To a large degree, that is exactly what Heliconias
growing in the wild receive. Mostly, they are light-gap specialists
in the tropical rain forests of the New World.
But with some 350 species, there is room for diversity. Six
species are native to South Pacific islands, a few species tolerate
open sun in seasonally dry areas, and others hide in dark shade
on the forest floor.
At least one Heliconia, H. marginata, grows
almost exclusively in standing water in the wild. Other species,
such as H. psittacorum (Parrot Flower), tolerate wet conditions,
although they grow equally well in drier areas.
H. marginata lives up to its name as a marginal plant.
It normally grows in full sun or light shade in swampy conditions.
The leaves are unusual among Heliconias in the way they
hold themselves upright. The flower color ranges from clear yellow
to red with yellow trim. The plant can grow to 5 meters (15 feet)
under ideal conditions.
The mostly red inflorescence of
H. marginata on the roadside in
A swampy area on the outskirts of Yaviza, Darién
Province, Panamá, has been completely taken over by H.
Luzmilla (Chiqui) Arroyo displays more wet and wild H.
psittacorum photos from the Victoria expedition
in Bolivia earlier in 2006. The same page features H. episcopalis.
This is the first reference I have seen to that species growing
in water; there is a lot to learn about the habits and tolerances
Other species known to grow in water in the wild are H.
standleyi from Colombia and Peru, and H. curtispatha
from Panama. Both of these plants are amongst the big Heliconias,
easily reaching 7 meters (21 feet) tall.
Heliconias are striking plants, but they're only for
those of us in the tropics and some brave souls in the sub-tropics.
Generally speaking, they don't tolerate prolonged temperatures
below 40 degrees F (4-5C). Heliconias are usually grown
from rhizomes. Seeds are an option if it is difficult for you
to acquire rhizomes, if you have a source for fresh seeds, and
if you have plenty of patience for germination.
To learn if you can grow Heliconias in your area and
about any special care they might need, contact local nurseries
or gardening groups. I am happy to answer questions about Heliconias.
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
H. episcopalis in
in a well-drained spot
in the wild.
An untidy clump of
H. curtispatha in a Panamanian swamp.
Pendent inflorescence of the
rainforest giant H. standleyi.