|Heliconia latispatha inflorescences|
Heliconia, derived from the Greek word helikonios, is a genus of flowering plants in the Heliconiaceae. Most of the ca 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku. Many species of Heliconia are found in rainforests or tropical wet forests of these regions. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, and a few are naturalized in Florida, Gambia and Thailand. Common names for the genus include lobster-claws, wild plantains or false bird-of-paradise. The last term refers to their close similarity to the bird-of-paradise flowers (Strelitzia). Collectively, these plants are also simply referred to as heliconias.
The Heliconia are a monophyletic genus in the family Heliconiaceae, but was formerly included in the family Musaceae, which includes the bananas (e.g., Musa, Ensete; ). However, the APG system of 1998, and its successor, the APG II system of 2003, confirm the Heliconiaceae as distinct and places them in the order Zingiberales, in the commelinid clade of monocots.
These herbaceous plants range from 0.5 to nearly 4.5 meters (1.5–15 feet) tall depending on the species. The simple leaves of these plants are 15–300 cm (6 in-10 ft). They are characteristically long, oblong, alternate, or growing opposite one another on non-woody petioles often longer than the leaf, often forming large clumps with age. Their flowers are produced on long, erect or drooping panicles, and consist of brightly colored waxy bracts, with small true flowers peeping out from the bracts. The growth habit of heliconias is similar to Canna, Strelitzia, and bananas, to which they are related.The flowers can be hues of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens, and are subtended by brightly colored bracts. The plants typically flower during the wet season. These bracts protect the flowers; floral shape often limits pollination to a subset of the hummingbirds in the region.
Uses and ecology
Heliconias are grown for the florist's trade and as landscape plants. These plants do not grow well in cold, dry conditions. They are very drought intolerant, but can endure some soil flooding. Heliconias need an abundance of water, sunlight, and soils that are rich in humus in order to grow well. These flowers are grown in tropical regions all over the world as ornamental plants. The flower of H. psittacorum (Parrot Heliconia) is especially distinctive, its greenish-yellow flowers with black spots and red bracts reminding of the bright plumage of parrots.
- H. psittacorum × H. spathocircinata, both species of South America, mainly Brazil
- H. × rauliniana = H. marginata (Venezuela) × H. bihai (Brazil)
- H. chartacea cv. 'Sexy Pink'
Most commonly grown landscape Heliconia species include Heliconia augusta, H. bihai, H. brasiliensis, H. caribaea, H. latispatha, H. pendula, H. psittacorum, H. rostrata, H. schiediana, and H. wagneriana.
Heliconias are an important food source for forest hummingbirds, especially the hermits (Phathornithinae), some of which – such as the rufous-breasted hermit (Glaucis hirsuta) – also use the plant for nesting. The Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba) also lives in tents it makes from heliconia leaves.
Leaves in different positions on the plant have a different absorption potential of sunlight for photosynthesis when exposed to different degrees of sunlight.
Flowers produce ample nectar that attracts pollinators, most prevalent of which are hummingbirds.
Fruits are blue-purple when ripe and primarily bird dispersed. Studies of post-dispersal seed survival showed that seed size was not a determinant. The highest amount of seed predation came from mammals.
Heliconia and bats
Although Heliconia are almost exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds, some bat pollination has been found to occur. Heliconia solomonensis is pollinated by the macroglosine bat (Melonycteris woodfordi) in the Solomon Islands. Heliconia solomonensis has green inflorescences and flowers that open at night, which is typical of bat pollinated plants. The macroglosine bat is the only known nocturnal pollinator of Heliconia solomonensis.
Many bats use Heliconia leaves for shelter. The Honduran white bat, Ectohylla alba, utilizes five species of Heliconia to make diurnal tent shaped roosts. The bat cuts the side veins of the leaf extending from the midrib causing the leaf to fold like a tent. This structure provides the bat with shelter from rain, sun, and predators. In addition, the stems of the Heliconia leaves are not strong enough to carry the weight of typical bat predators, so shaking of the leaf alerts roosting bats to presence of predators. The bats Artibeus anderseni and A. phaeotis form tents from the leaves of Heliconia in the same manner as the Honduran white bat. The Neotropical disk-winged bat, Thyroptera tricolor, has suction disks on the wrists which allow it to cling to the smooth surfaces of the Heliconia leaves. This bat roosts head up in the rolled young leaves of Heliconia plants.
Insects and Heliconia
Heliconias provide shelter for a diverse range of insects within their young rolled leaves and water-filled floral bracts. Insects that inhabit the rolled leaves often feed upon the inner surfaces of the leaf, such as beetles of the family Chrysomelidae. In bracts containing small amounts of water, fly larvae and beetles are the dominant inhabitants. In bracts with greater quantities of water the typical inhabitants are mosquito larva. Insects living in the bracts often feed on the bract tissue, nectar of the flower, flower parts, other insects, microorganisms, or detritus in the water contained in the bract (Siefert 1982). Almost all species of Hispini beetles that use rolled leaves are obligate herbivores of plants of the order of Zingiberales, which includes Heliconia. These beetles live in and feed from the rolled leaf, the stems, the inflorescences, or the unfurled mature leaves of the Heliconia plant. In addition, these beetles deposit their eggs on the leaf surface, petioles of immature leaves, or in the bracts of the Heliconia. Furthermore, some wasp species such as Polistes erythrocephalus build their nest on the protected underside of large leaves.
Hummingbirds and Heliconia
Hummingbirds are the main pollinators of flowers in the genus Heliconia (order Zingiberales: family Heliconiaceae) in many locations. The concurrent diversification of hummingbird pollinated taxa in the order Zingiberales and the hummingbird family (Trochilidae: Phaethorninae) 18 mya supports that these radiations have significantly influenced one another through evolutionary time. Kress and Specht 2005). At La Selva research station in Costa Rica it was found that specific species of Heliconia have specific hummingbird pollinators. These hummingbirds can be organized into two different groups: hermits and non-hermits. Hermits are a subfamily of Phaethornithinae, consisting of the genera Anopetia, Eutoxeres, Glaucis, Phaethornis, Ramphodon, and Threnetes. Non-hermits are a paraphyletic group within the Trochilidae, comprising several clades (McGuire 2008). Hermits are generally traplining foragers, where individuals visit a repeated circuit of high-reward flowers instead of holding fixed territories  Non-hermits are territorial over their Heliconia clumps, causing greater self-pollination. Hermits tend to have long curved bills while non-hermits tend to possess short straight bills, a morphological difference that likely spurred the divergence of these groups in the Miocene era. Characteristics of Heliconia flowers that select for either hermit or non-hermit pollinator specificity are degree of self-compatibility, flowering phenology, nectar production, color, and shape of flower.  The hummingbird itself will choose the plants its feeds from based on its beak shape, its perch on the plant, and its territory choice.
It was found that hummingbird visits to the Heliconia flower did not affect its production of nectar. This may account for the flowers not having a consistent amount of nectar produced from flower to flower.
Different Heliconia species have different flowering seasons. This suggests that the species compete for pollinators. It was found that many species of Heliconia, even the newly colonized species, all had many pollinators visit.
Species accepted by Kew Botanic Gardens
- Heliconia abaloi -Colombia
- Heliconia acuminata - South America
- Heliconia adflexa - S Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras
- Heliconia aemygdiana - South America
- Heliconia albicosta - Costa Rica
- Heliconia angelica - Ecuador
- Heliconia angusta - SE Brazil
- Heliconia apparicioi - Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia arrecta - Colombia
- Heliconia atratensis - Colombia
- Heliconia atropurpurea - Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica
- Heliconia aurantiaca - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia auriculata - Bahia
- Heliconia badilloi - Colombia
- Heliconia barryana - Chiriquí
- Heliconia beckneri - Costa Rica
- Heliconia bella - Panama
- Heliconia berriziana - Colombia
- Heliconia berryi - Napo
- Heliconia bihai - West Indies, N South America
- Heliconia bourgaeana - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia brachyantha - Panama, Colombia, Venezuela
- Heliconia brenneri - Ecuador
- Heliconia burleana - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia caltheaphylla - Costa Rica
- Heliconia caquetensis - Colombia
- Heliconia carajaensis - Pará
- Heliconia caribaea - West Indies
- Heliconia carmelae - Colombia
- Heliconia chartacea - N South America
- Heliconia chrysocraspeda - Colombia
- Heliconia clinophila - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia colgantea - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia collinsiana - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia combinata - Colombia
- Heliconia cordata - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia crassa - Guatemala
- Heliconia cristata - Panama
- Heliconia cucullata - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia curtispatha - Colombia, Ecuador, Central America
- Heliconia danielsiana - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia darienensis - Colombia, Panama
- Heliconia dasyantha - Suriname, French Guiana
- Heliconia densiflora - Trinidad, N South America
- Heliconia dielsiana - NW South America
- Heliconia donstonea - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia episcopalis - South America
- Heliconia estherae - Colombia
- Heliconia estiletioides - Colombia
- Heliconia excelsa - Napo
- Heliconia farinosa - SE Brazil, NE Argentina
- Heliconia faunorum - Panama
- Heliconia fernandezii - Antioquia
- Heliconia × flabellata - Ecuador
- Heliconia foreroi - Colombia
- Heliconia fragilis - Colombia
- Heliconia fredberryana - Imbabura
- Heliconia fugax - Peru
- Heliconia gaiboriana - Los Ríos
- Heliconia gigantea - Colombia
- Heliconia gloriosa - Peru
- Heliconia gracilis - Costa Rica
- Heliconia griggsiana - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia harlingii - Ecuador
- Heliconia hirsuta - Central + South America, Trinidad
- Heliconia holmquistiana - Colombia
- Heliconia huilensis - Colombia
- Heliconia ignescens - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia imbricata - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia
- Heliconia impudica - Ecuador
- Heliconia indica - Papuasia, Maluku
- Heliconia intermedia - Colombia
- Heliconia irrasa - Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua
- Heliconia julianii - N South America
- Heliconia juruana - Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia kautzkiana - Espírito Santo
- Heliconia lanata - Solomon Islands
- Heliconia lankesteri - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia lasiorachis - Colombia, Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia latispatha - from S Mexico to Peru
- Heliconia laufao - Samoa
- Heliconia laxa - Colombia
- Heliconia lentiginosa - Antioquia
- Heliconia librata - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia lingulata - Peru, Bolivia
- Heliconia litana - Imbabura
- Heliconia longiflora - Colombia, Ecuador, Central America
- Heliconia longissima - Colombia
- Heliconia lophocarpa - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia lourteigiae - South America
- Heliconia lozanoi - Colombia
- Heliconia luciae - B Amazonas
- Heliconia lutea - Panama
- Heliconia luteoviridis - Colombia
- Heliconia lutheri - Ecuador
- Heliconia maculata - Panama
- Heliconia magnifica - Panama
- Heliconia × mantenensis - Minas Gerais
- Heliconia marginata - N South America, S Central America
- Heliconia mariae - NW South America, Central America
- Heliconia markiana - Ecuador
- Heliconia marthiasiae - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia meridensis - Colombia, Venezuela
- Heliconia metallica - N South America, Central America
- Heliconia monteverdensis - Costa Rica
- Heliconia mooreana - Guerrero
- Heliconia mucilagina - Colombia
- Heliconia mucronata - Venezuela, NW Brazil
- Heliconia mutisiana - Colombia
- Heliconia nariniensis - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia necrobracteata - Panama
- Heliconia × nickeriensis - Suriname, French Guiana
- Heliconia nigripraefixa - Colombia, Ecuador, Panama
- Heliconia nitida - Colombia
- Heliconia nubigena - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia nutans - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia obscura - Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia obscuroides - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia oleosa - Colombia
- Heliconia ortotricha - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia osaensis - Colombia, Central America
- Heliconia paka - Fiji
- Heliconia paludigena - Ecuador
- Heliconia papuana - New Guinea
- Heliconia pardoi - Ecuador
- Heliconia pastazae - Ecuador
- Heliconia peckenpaughii - Napo
- Heliconia pendula - Guiana, Fr Guiana, NE Brazil
- Heliconia penduloides - Peru
- Heliconia peteriana - Ecuador
- Heliconia × plagiotropa - Ecuador
- Heliconia platystachys - NW South America, S Central America
- Heliconia pogonantha - NW South America, S Central America
- Heliconia pruinosa - Peru
- Heliconia pseudoaemygdiana - Rio de Janeiro
- Heliconia psittacorum - N South America, Panama, Trinidad
- Heliconia ramonensis - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia × rauliniana - Venezuela
- Heliconia regalis - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia reptans - Colombia
- Heliconia reticulata - NW South America, S Central America
- Heliconia revoluta - Colombia, Venezuela, NW Brazil
- Heliconia rhodantha - Colombia
- Heliconia richardiana - NE South America
- Heliconia rigida - Colombia
- Heliconia riopalenquensis - Ecuador
- Heliconia rivularis - São Paulo
- Heliconia robertoi - Colombia
- Heliconia robusta - Peru, Bolivia
- Heliconia rodriguensis - Venezuela
- Heliconia rodriguezii - Costa Rica
- Heliconia rostrata - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
- Heliconia samperiana - Colombia
- Heliconia sanctae-martae - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
- Heliconia sanctae-theresae - Antioquia
- Heliconia santaremensis - Pará
- Heliconia sarapiquensis - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia scarlatina - Colombia, Panama, Peru
- Heliconia schiedeana - Mexico
- Heliconia schumanniana - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, N Brazil
- Heliconia sclerotricha - Ecuador
- Heliconia secunda - Costa Rica, Nicaragua
- Heliconia sessilis - Panama
- Heliconia signa-hispanica - Colombia
- Heliconia solomonensis - Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago
- Heliconia spathocircinata - South America, Panama, Trinidad
- Heliconia spiralis - Colombia
- Heliconia spissa - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia standleyi - Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia stella-maris - Colombia
- Heliconia stilesii - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia stricta - N South America
- Heliconia subulata - South America
- Heliconia tacarcunae - Panama
- Heliconia talamancana - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia tandayapensis - Ecuador
- Heliconia tenebrosa - Colombia, NE Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia terciopela - Colombia
- Heliconia thomasiana - Panama
- Heliconia timothei - NE Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia titanum - Colombia
- Heliconia tortuosa - S Mexico, Central America
- Heliconia trichocarpa - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia
- Heliconia tridentata - Colombia
- Heliconia triflora - B Amazonas
- Heliconia umbrophila - Costa Rica
- Heliconia uxpanapensis - Veracruz
- Heliconia vaginalis - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia vellerigera - Ecuador, Peru
- Heliconia velutina - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
- Heliconia venusta - Colombia, Ecuador
- Heliconia villosa - Venezuela
- Heliconia virginalis - Ecuador
- Heliconia wagneriana - Central America, N South America, Trinidad
- Heliconia willisiana - Pichincha
- Heliconia wilsonii - Costa Rica, Panama
- Heliconia xanthovillosa - Panama
- Heliconia zebrina - Peru
- National Tropical Botanical Garden, designated a conservation center by the Heliconia Society International
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heliconia.|
- Heliconias of Peru (pdf file with scientific name and photos) in Spanish
- Heliconiaceae in L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz (1992 onwards). The families of flowering plants: descriptions, illustrations, identification, information retrieval. Version: 27 April 2006. http://delta-intkey.com.
- Monocot families (USDA)
- NCBI Taxonomy Browser
- links at CSDL
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- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
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- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, genus Heliconia
- Walter Judd; et al. (2007). Plant Systematics: A phylogenetic approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
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