is a genus
of about 100 to 200 species of flowering plants
native to the tropical Americas
and the Pacific Ocean
islands west to Indonesia
. It is the sole genus of family Heliconiaceae
, but was formerly included in the family Musaceae
. Common names for the genus include lobster-claw
, wild plantain
and false bird-of-paradise
. The last term refers to their close similarity to the bird-of-paradise flowers (Strelitzia
The leaves are 15-300 cm long , oblong, 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.
Heliconias are an important food source for forest hummingbirds, especially the hermits some of which, such as the Rufous-breasted Hermit, also use the plant for nesting. The Honduran white bat also lives in tents it makes from the plant's leaves.
Heliconias are grown for the florist's trade and as landscape plants. The flower of H. psittacorum
(Parrot Heliconia), is especially distinctive, for its greenish-yellow flowers and black spots bear a remarkable resemblance to the bright plumage
Several cultivars and hybrids have been selected for garden planting, including:
- H. psittacorum × H. spathocircinata, both species of South America, mainly Brazil
- H. × rauliniana = H. marginata (Venezuela) × H. bihai (Brazil)
- H. chartacea cv. 'Sexy Pink'