Heliconia are exotic tropical plants with a variety of colorful and unusual shaped bracts or inflorescence (flowers). They typically do best in tropical humid environments but a few species will do well in higher elevations where rainfall is less than the lowland species. When I was designing landscapes in south Florida, Heliconia became a part of my signature design. I was intrigued with these flowers when I visited Costa Rica and noticed how many different varities grew in the wild. One morning while out on a hiking trip I came upon a native heliconia, the Umbricata, the cone shaped flower brilliant red in color had an unusual yellow stripe wrapped around the center of the cone (flower). Upon closer scrutinizing I realized I was looking face to face with an eyelash viper, an extremely small yet venemous snake. A species of the bothrops family of vipers, they are known for such brilliant coloration. Apparently, these snakes are quite intelligent, since the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, these snakes have been known to do just this, wrap themselves around a flower and sit and wait for lunch to be delivered. I did not stick around and wait for the ambush or to ask how his meal was!
Above, a smaller Heliconia, a psittacorum variety that usually only
reaches 3-4 feet in height. Below, the Heliconia Caribaea,
may reach up to 12 feet in height. At the bottom, is the
Heliconia Rostrata, commonly known as the “hanging” lobster claw. Most
of the Heliconia make excellent cut flowers.
Photo credit: Mike Brown