The Heliconia Genus (Lobster Claw; False Bird Of Paradise)

Heliconia comes from the plant family of the same name, Heliconiaceae, and encompasses just under 200 different species, most of which come from the tropical Americas.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About Heliconia

These beautiful plants are instantly recognizable thanks to their dramatic flowers in shades of orange, red, pink and yellow, or a combination of these.

These are actually false flowers, protecting the true flowers underneath.

This stops enterprising insects and animals from reaching the nectar in the true flowers, reserving it for the pollinators which will help ensure that the plant reproduces.

You may know one of the most famous plants in this genus, Heliconia rostrata, or the hanging lobster claw, which produces pendant flowers resembling the claws of a lobster, in shades of red and yellow.

It comes from tropical parts of the world such as Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, and Bolivia, and remains one of the most popular plants of the genus to be used as an ornamental plant.

It’s worth knowing that the vast majority of species within the genus are classed as vulnerable, so if you want to grow these plants in your own garden, make sure that you source them responsibly.

In the tropics, these plants have quite a few functions. They provide food for both bats and hummingbirds, which are the pollinators.

The foliage also acts as tiny wells, providing a great source of water, as well as breeding grounds for frogs and mosquitoes. 

Bats have also been known to roost in the leaves.

The appearance of the flowers is entirely dictated by the species, so do your research if you want a certain color or size.

The plant family only consists of the one genus, Heliconia, which was originally placed under the Musaceae plant family, also known as the banana plant family. 

Heliconia Name Meaning

The genus name comes from a mountain in the south of Greece, called Mount Helicon.

This particular mountain is entrenched in its own symbolism, as in Greek mythology, it is home to the Muses, the goddesses of inspiration, whose ideas found the arts, science, and literature.

The common name, lobster claw, comes from the appearance of the false flowers.

The name false bird of paradise refers to the flowers’ similarity to the ones produced by the bird of paradise plants, belonging to the Strelitzia genus (see also Strelitzia Types And Grow Guide). 

You may also see them labeled as wild plantain, or toucan beak.

The Symbolism Behind Heliconia Flowers

In terms of symbolism, heliconia flowers signify a wealth of success, youth, prosperity and pride.

Growing Requirements For Heliconia

Heliconias are gorgeous plants which are perennials, provided that they’re grown in USDA zones 9 through to 11. 

Some can be as compact as 2 feet tall, while others may reach up to 20 feet tall, and this is dictated by the species as well as the space and growing conditions available.

The leaves themselves can reach anywhere from 6 inches to 10 feet tall, providing plenty of architectural interest when the plant is not in flower.

Heliconia plants will grow in full sunlight or partial shade, but they are more fussy about the soil.

The soil needs to be constantly damp with good drainage, preferably with plenty of nutrients. For best results, aim for a pH between 5.0 and 7.0.

As long as the soil stays moist, they don’t need a lot of water, or any other attention from you.

Depending on the species, they will bloom from spring into summer, or summer into fall. They may flower in shades of green, yellow, orange, pink, red, or a combination of these colors.

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