Andromeda Botanic Gardens 
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The Heliconias

The Andromeda Botanic Gardens houses a significant collection of heliconias. The gardens was at one time under development as one of only a few heliconia repositories throughout the World.   

Early European botanist visiting the neotropics would have been fascinated by these predominantly tropical gems. The often large and colorful flowering shoots of these plants would have been very far removed from the traditional European flora.

Heliconia rostrata

Commonly referred to in Barbados and Florida as ' Lobster Claw ', however a similar cultivar name (Giant Lobster Claw) is also applied to a cultivar of Heliconia bihai.

 

Classifying the Heliconias:
  • Phylum or Division (Magnoliophyta or Anthophyta)
  • Class (Liliopsida or Monocotyledones)
  • Order (Zingeriberales)
  • Family (Heliconiaceae)
  • Genus (Heliconia)
  • Species 
  • Cultivar (human-derived and horticulturally propagated sport, mutant, variant, color form, or hybrid)

Heliconia L. is a large genus of attractive monocots, mostly indigenous to the Neotropics. The genus is made up of about 100 species along with a large number of hybrids and cultivars. They are related to bananas, cannas and gingers and traditionally have been included in the Banana Family (Musaceae). Most recent authors prefer to interpret the genus Heliconia as making up the one-genus family Heliconiaceae. There are about seven species indigenous to the Caribbean, but no wild heliconias in Barbados.

General appearance of the Heliconias:

Heliconia leaves look more or less like banana leaves. The bases of the petioles are broadened and overlapped with each other to form a thick sheath around a comparatively thin stem.

The underground portion is dominated by the rhizome, which is a horizontal underground stem.

They have narrow tubular flowers with inferior ovaries. The floral tubes are made up of six variably fused tepals (sepals and petals).

Within the flowers are the pollen-producing stamens and the pollen-receptive stigma on a long style.

The flowers are mostly hidden by large, colourful specialised leaves called bracts. The bracts are what give heliconias their horticultural value. The bracts vary in colouration, size, shape, arrangement, degree of crowding, texture, number, and other details.

The tubular flowers tend to have a "lock & key" fit with the beaks of the hummingbirds that pollinate most neotropical heliconias. Plants pollinated by hummingbirds tend toward such tubular flowers, and toward bright "parrot colours": reds, oranges, and sometimes bright yellows or bright greens.

Hybridization in the Heliconias:

Hybridization between heliconia species is probably uncommon in nature (a notable exception being hybrids between Heliconia bihai and H. caribaea species in the Caribbean ), but is becoming more common in cultivation as species that would not naturally be exposed to each other come into close proximity, and share pollinators. 

 

 

Some cultivars of the different species of heliconia exhibited at Andromeda will be highlighted below.

 

 Heliconia psittacorum x spathocircinata 

This is a naturally occurring hybrid originally discovered in Guyana. 

The picture is of 'Golden Torch' named by A. Will and H. Donselman in 1977 for plants exported to Florida from the Andromeda Botanic Gardens.

This heliconia cultivar is produced extensively for the cut flower industry in the Caribbean and the United States. This cultivar blooms year-round and is also extensively used in landscaping in Barbados. 

Plants up to 3 metres. 

Heliconia stricta ' Iris Bannochie '

This cultivar was named after the founder of the Andromeda Botanic Gardens.

 

 

Heliconia latispatha

Blooms year-round.

A number of different cultivars maintained at Andromeda.

 

Heliconia bihai

This is a complex and diverse species.

Some members of this species readily hybridize with Heliconia caribaea (see below), in the Caribbean.

Heliconia caribaea x  bihai  ' Jacquinii '

Heliconia mariae ' Beefsteak '

 

Propagating Heliconias:

Heliconias may be propagated by division of rhizomes or from seeds. 

Propagation by Division/Suckers:

Propagating heliconias by division is a simple way of conserving desirable traits. All the characteristics of the parent plant will typically be exhibited by any divisions or suckers arising from that plant.  

Propagating by division is also a quick and easy way of multiplying the number of specimens of a desired species or cultivar (limited only by the number of rhizomes).

Propagating heliconias by division is usually a simple process involving making a cut across a section of rhizome (ideally bearing at least one visible sucker). The cut section of rhizome can then be transplanted to a new location. 

When collecting rhizomes from the field it is recommended that they be washed with soap and water and treated with a systemic fungicide to minimize the occurrence of bacterial or fungal pest problems.

The planted rhizomes would be expected to sprout within two months.

 

Heliconia suckers arising from exposed rhizomes.

Propagation by Seed:

Heliconias are seldom grown from seeds. Seeds may take up to a year to germinate, and germination percentages may be poor.

Propagation from seed may only be practical for serious breeders interested in (and willing to devote lots of time to) developing new cultivars.