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