For the Colombian town, see Heliconia, Antioquia.
Not to be confused with Helliconia, Heliconius, or Helicon.
"Lobster-claw" redirects here. For the crustacean appendage, see Lobster claw.
Heliconia latispatha inflorescences
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Heliconiaceae
Genus: Heliconia
  • Bihai Mill.
  • Heliconiopsis Miq.
Heliconia mariae inflorescence

Heliconia, derived from the Greek word helikonios, is a genus of flowering plants in the Heliconiaceae. Most of the ca 194 known species[3] are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku.[2] 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.[4] 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; [5]). 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.

Several cultivars and hybrids have been selected for garden planting, including:

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.


Heliconia psittacorum
Heliconia rostrata inflorescence
Closeup of Heliconia vellerigera inflorescence
H. psittacorum × H. spathocircinata cv. Golden Torch
Heliconia bourgaeana Petersen


Leaves in different positions on the plant have a different absorption potential of sunlight for photosynthesis when exposed to different degrees of sunlight.[9]


Flowers produce ample nectar that attracts pollinators, most prevalent of which are hummingbirds.[10]


Fruits are blue-purple when ripe and primarily bird dispersed.[11] Studies of post-dispersal seed survival showed that seed size was not a determinant. The highest amount of seed predation came from mammals.[12]

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.[13]


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.[14] The bats Artibeus anderseni and A. phaeotis form tents from the leaves of Heliconia in the same manner as the Honduran white bat.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] Furthermore, some wasp species such as Polistes erythrocephalus build their nest on the protected underside of large leaves.[18]

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.[19] Kress and Specht 2005). At La Selva research station in Costa Rica it was found that specific species of Heliconia have specific hummingbird pollinators.[20] 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, Raphodon, and Threnetes.[21] 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 [20][22] Non-hermits are territorial over their Heliconia clumps, causing greater self-pollination.[20] 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.[23][24] 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. [25][26][23] The hummingbird itself will choose the plants its feeds from based on its beak shape, its perch on the plant, and its territory choice.[27]

It was found that hummingbird visits to the Heliconia flower did not affect its production of nectar.[28] 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.[29]


Species accepted by Kew Botanic Gardens[4]

  1. Heliconia abaloi -Colombia
  2. Heliconia acuminata - South America
  3. Heliconia adflexa - S Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras
  4. Heliconia aemygdiana - South America
  5. Heliconia albicosta - Costa Rica
  6. Heliconia angelica - Ecuador
  7. Heliconia angusta - SE Brazil
  8. Heliconia apparicioi - Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
  9. Heliconia arrecta - Colombia
  10. Heliconia atratensis - Colombia
  11. Heliconia atropurpurea - Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica
  12. Heliconia aurantiaca - S Mexico, Central America
  13. Heliconia auriculata - Bahia
  14. Heliconia badilloi - Colombia
  15. Heliconia barryana - Chiriquí
  16. Heliconia beckneri - Costa Rica
  17. Heliconia bella - Panama
  18. Heliconia berriziana - Colombia
  19. Heliconia berryi - Napo
  20. Heliconia bihai - West Indies, N South America
  21. Heliconia bourgaeana - S Mexico, Central America
  22. Heliconia brachyantha - Panama, Colombia, Venezuela
  23. Heliconia brenneri - Ecuador
  24. Heliconia burleana - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  25. Heliconia caltheaphylla - Costa Rica
  26. Heliconia caquetensis - Colombia
  27. Heliconia carajaensis - Pará
  28. Heliconia caribaea - West Indies
  29. Heliconia carmelae - Colombia
  30. Heliconia chartacea - N South America
  31. Heliconia chrysocraspeda - Colombia
  32. Heliconia clinophila - Costa Rica, Panama
  33. Heliconia colgantea - Costa Rica, Panama
  34. Heliconia collinsiana - S Mexico, Central America
  35. Heliconia combinata - Colombia
  36. Heliconia cordata - Colombia, Ecuador
  37. Heliconia crassa - Guatemala
  38. Heliconia cristata - Panama
  39. Heliconia cucullata - Costa Rica, Panama
  40. Heliconia curtispatha - Colombia, Ecuador, Central America
  41. Heliconia danielsiana - Costa Rica, Panama
  42. Heliconia darienensis - Colombia, Panama
  43. Heliconia dasyantha - Suriname, French Guiana
  44. Heliconia densiflora - Trinidad, N South America
  45. Heliconia dielsiana - NW South America
  46. Heliconia donstonea - Colombia, Ecuador
  47. Heliconia episcopalis - South America
  48. Heliconia estherae - Colombia
  49. Heliconia estiletioides - Colombia
  50. Heliconia excelsa - Napo
  51. Heliconia farinosa - SE Brazil, NE Argentina
  52. Heliconia faunorum - Panama
  53. Heliconia fernandezii - Antioquia
  54. Heliconia × flabellata - Ecuador
  55. Heliconia foreroi - Colombia
  56. Heliconia fragilis - Colombia
  57. Heliconia fredberryana - Imbabura
  58. Heliconia fugax - Peru
  59. Heliconia gaiboriana - Los Ríos
  60. Heliconia gigantea - Colombia
  61. Heliconia gloriosa - Peru
  62. Heliconia gracilis - Costa Rica
  63. Heliconia griggsiana - Colombia, Ecuador
  64. Heliconia harlingii - Ecuador
  65. Heliconia hirsuta - Central + South America, Trinidad
  66. Heliconia holmquistiana - Colombia
  67. Heliconia huilensis - Colombia
  68. Heliconia ignescens - Costa Rica, Panama
  69. Heliconia imbricata - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia
  70. Heliconia impudica - Ecuador
  71. Heliconia indica - Papuasia, Maluku
  72. Heliconia intermedia - Colombia
  73. Heliconia irrasa - Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua
  74. Heliconia julianii - N South America
  75. Heliconia juruana - Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
  76. Heliconia kautzkiana - Espírito Santo
  77. Heliconia lanata - Solomon Islands
  78. Heliconia lankesteri - Costa Rica, Panama
  79. Heliconia lasiorachis - Colombia, Peru, NW Brazil
  80. Heliconia latispatha - from S Mexico to Peru
  81. Heliconia laufao - Samoa
  82. Heliconia laxa - Colombia
  83. Heliconia lentiginosa - Antioquia
  84. Heliconia librata - S Mexico, Central America
  85. Heliconia lingulata - Peru, Bolivia
  86. Heliconia litana - Imbabura
  87. Heliconia longiflora - Colombia, Ecuador, Central America
  88. Heliconia longissima - Colombia
  89. Heliconia lophocarpa - Costa Rica, Panama
  90. Heliconia lourteigiae - South America
  91. Heliconia lozanoi - Colombia
  92. Heliconia luciae - B Amazonas
  93. Heliconia lutea - Panama
  94. Heliconia luteoviridis - Colombia
  95. Heliconia lutheri - Ecuador
  96. Heliconia maculata - Panama
  97. Heliconia magnifica - Panama
  98. Heliconia × mantenensis - Minas Gerais
  99. Heliconia marginata - N South America, S Central America
  100. Heliconia mariae - NW South America, Central America
  101. Heliconia markiana - Ecuador
  102. Heliconia marthiasiae - S Mexico, Central America
  103. Heliconia meridensis - Colombia, Venezuela
  104. Heliconia metallica - N South America, Central America
  105. Heliconia monteverdensis - Costa Rica
  106. Heliconia mooreana - Guerrero
  107. Heliconia mucilagina - Colombia
  108. Heliconia mucronata - Venezuela, NW Brazil
  109. Heliconia mutisiana - Colombia
  110. Heliconia nariniensis - Colombia, Ecuador
  111. Heliconia necrobracteata - Panama
  112. Heliconia × nickeriensis - Suriname, French Guiana
  113. Heliconia nigripraefixa - Colombia, Ecuador, Panama
  114. Heliconia nitida - Colombia
  115. Heliconia nubigena - Costa Rica, Panama
  116. Heliconia nutans - Costa Rica, Panama
  117. Heliconia obscura - Ecuador, Peru
  118. Heliconia obscuroides - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  119. Heliconia oleosa - Colombia
  120. Heliconia ortotricha - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  121. Heliconia osaensis - Colombia, Central America
  122. Heliconia paka - Fiji
  123. Heliconia paludigena - Ecuador
  124. Heliconia papuana - New Guinea
  125. Heliconia pardoi - Ecuador
  126. Heliconia pastazae - Ecuador
  127. Heliconia peckenpaughii - Napo
  128. Heliconia pendula - Guiana, Fr Guiana, NE Brazil
  129. Heliconia penduloides - Peru
  130. Heliconia peteriana - Ecuador
  131. Heliconia × plagiotropa - Ecuador
  132. Heliconia platystachys - NW South America, S Central America
  133. Heliconia pogonantha - NW South America, S Central America
  134. Heliconia pruinosa - Peru
  135. Heliconia pseudoaemygdiana - Rio de Janeiro
  136. Heliconia psittacorum - N South America, Panama, Trinidad
  137. Heliconia ramonensis - Costa Rica, Panama
  138. Heliconia × rauliniana - Venezuela
  139. Heliconia regalis - Colombia, Ecuador
  140. Heliconia reptans - Colombia
  141. Heliconia reticulata - NW South America, S Central America
  142. Heliconia revoluta - Colombia, Venezuela, NW Brazil
  143. Heliconia rhodantha - Colombia
  144. Heliconia richardiana - NE South America
  145. Heliconia rigida - Colombia
  146. Heliconia riopalenquensis - Ecuador
  147. Heliconia rivularis - São Paulo
  148. Heliconia robertoi - Colombia
  149. Heliconia robusta - Peru, Bolivia
  150. Heliconia rodriguensis - Venezuela
  151. Heliconia rodriguezii - Costa Rica
  152. Heliconia rostrata - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
  153. Heliconia samperiana - Colombia
  154. Heliconia sanctae-martae - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
  155. Heliconia sanctae-theresae - Antioquia
  156. Heliconia santaremensis - Pará
  157. Heliconia sarapiquensis - Costa Rica, Panama
  158. Heliconia scarlatina - Colombia, Panama, Peru
  159. Heliconia schiedeana - Mexico
  160. Heliconia schumanniana - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, N Brazil
  161. Heliconia sclerotricha - Ecuador
  162. Heliconia secunda - Costa Rica, Nicaragua
  163. Heliconia sessilis - Panama
  164. Heliconia signa-hispanica - Colombia
  165. Heliconia solomonensis - Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago
  166. Heliconia spathocircinata - South America, Panama, Trinidad
  167. Heliconia spiralis - Colombia
  168. Heliconia spissa - S Mexico, Central America
  169. Heliconia standleyi - Ecuador, Peru
  170. Heliconia stella-maris - Colombia
  171. Heliconia stilesii - Costa Rica, Panama
  172. Heliconia stricta - N South America
  173. Heliconia subulata - South America
  174. Heliconia tacarcunae - Panama
  175. Heliconia talamancana - Costa Rica, Panama
  176. Heliconia tandayapensis - Ecuador
  177. Heliconia tenebrosa - Colombia, NE Peru, NW Brazil
  178. Heliconia terciopela - Colombia
  179. Heliconia thomasiana - Panama
  180. Heliconia timothei - NE Peru, NW Brazil
  181. Heliconia titanum - Colombia
  182. Heliconia tortuosa - S Mexico, Central America
  183. Heliconia trichocarpa - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia
  184. Heliconia tridentata - Colombia
  185. Heliconia triflora - B Amazonas
  186. Heliconia umbrophila - Costa Rica
  187. Heliconia uxpanapensis - Veracruz
  188. Heliconia vaginalis - Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador
  189. Heliconia vellerigera - Ecuador, Peru
  190. Heliconia velutina - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, NW Brazil
  191. Heliconia venusta - Colombia, Ecuador
  192. Heliconia villosa - Venezuela
  193. Heliconia virginalis - Ecuador
  194. Heliconia wagneriana - Central America, N South America, Trinidad
  195. Heliconia willisiana - Pichincha
  196. Heliconia wilsonii - Costa Rica, Panama
  197. Heliconia xanthovillosa - Panama
  198. Heliconia zebrina - Peru

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heliconia.


  1. Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2009). "An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III" (PDF). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 161 (2): 105–121. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00996.x. Retrieved 2013-06-26.
  2. 1 2 Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. Christenhusz, M. J. M.; Byng, J. W. (2016). "The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase". Phytotaxa. Magnolia Press. 261 (3): 201–217. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.261.3.1.
  4. 1 2 Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, genus Heliconia
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  11. Uriarte, M. Anciães; da Silva, M. T.B.; Rubim, P.; Johnson, E.; Bruna, E. M. (2011). "Disentangling the drivers of reduced long-distance seed dispersal by birds in an experimentally fragmented landscape". Ecology. 92 (4): 924–937.
  12. Hoii, Karen; Lulow, Megan (2006). "Effects of species, habitat, and distance from edge on post-dispersal seed predation in a Tropical Rainforest". Biotropica. 29: 459–468.
  13. Kress, W. J. (1985). "Bat Pollination of an Old World Heliconia". Biotropica. 17 (4): 302–308.
  14. Timm, R.W.; Mortimer, J. (1976). "Selection of Roost sited by Honduran White Bats, Ectophylla Alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomatidae)". Ecology. 57 (2): 385–389.
  15. Timm, R.W.; Patterson, B.D. (1987). "Tent Construction by bats of the genera Artibeus and Uroderma". Fieldiana: Zoology. 29: 188–212.
  16. Findley, J.S.; Wilson, D.E. (1974). "Observations on the Neotropical disk-winged bat, Thyroptera tricolor spix". Journal of Mammalogy. 55 (3): 563–571.
  17. Strong Jr., Donald R. (1977). "Insect Species Richness: Hispine Beetles of the Heliconia Latispatha". Ecology. 58.
  18. "Nesting habits and nest symbionts of Polistes erythrocephalus Latreille (Hymenoptera Vespidae) in Costa Rica" (PDF). Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  19. Bleiweiss, R. (1998). "Tempo and mode of hummingbird evolution". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 65 (1): 63–76.
  20. 1 2 3 Stiles, Gary (1975). "Ecology, flowering phenology, and hummingbird pollination of some Costa Rican "Heliconia" species". Ecology. 56: 285–301.
  21. McGuire, J. A.; Witt, C. C.; Remsen Jr., J. V.; Dudley, R.; Altshuler, D.L. (2008). "A higher-level taxonomy for hummingbirds". Journal of Ornithology. 150: 155–165.
  22. Dobkin, D. S. (1984). "Flowering patterns of long-lived "Heliconia" inflorescences: implications for visiting and resident nectarivores". Oecologia. 64 (2): 245–254.
  23. 1 2 Graham, C. H.; Parra, J. L.; Rahbek, C.; McGuire, J. A. (2009). "Phylogenetic structure in tropical hummingbird communities". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106: 19673–19678.
  24. Temeles, E. J.; Miller, J. S.; Rifkin, J. L. (2010). "Evolution of sexual dimorphism in bill size and shape of hermit hummingbirds (Phaethornithinae): a role for ecological causation". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 365: 1053–1063.
  25. Kress, W. J.; Specht, C. D. (2005). "Between Cancer and Capricorn: phylogeny, evolution and ecology of the primarily tropical Zingiberales". Biologiske Skrifter. 55: 459–478.
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