Those Gorgeous Heliconias

It seems a liftetime has passed since I first knew the late Fred Berry 20 years ago. Fred was an amazing, multi-talented person, and a well respected Heliconia grower who lived nearby in South Miami. He introduced hundreds of people to the wonders of Heliconias from the verdant rainforest valleys of Panama and the cool mountains of Ecuador and Peru. Co-authoring one of the most definitive books on the genus, he passed on about 10 years ago, yet his legacy can be seen throughout South Florida. We grow about a dozen varieties of Heliconia at Pinecrest Gardens, and would like to grow a greater variety. There are so many to choose from that choosing just one or two is difficult. They have their own personalities as do many other plants, but there many types which are good landscape plants. 

H. pogonantha
in Hilo, Hawaii

In this remarkably diverse genus there are some 400 species and an increasing number of hybrids and selections. From 12 inch tall pixies to 40 foot tall monsters, there is such a wide range of plants available that if your conditions allowed their growth, you should have one or two Heliconias in your garden. There are types which spread rapidly into large clumps, such as the psittacorum group, and some that are quite modestly slow, such as the caribea group. Size notwithstanding, the inflorescences make excellent floral displays and cut flowers. The plants don't make good containerized specimens for very long; the plants need plenty of root space and air movement to look and grow their best. 

H. bihai x H. caribea

H. x rauliniana
an interspecific hybrid


H. psittacorum
one of the most widely
cultivated types
for cutflower production

For those with the climate to grow these plants as landscape specimens, there are few plant groups which say "tropical" more than Heliconias. As with all plants, know something about them before you plant them. These are fairly high-demand plants regarding water and fertilizer, but these needs can be met easily. Adding controlled-release fertilizer and organic material to the soil at planting time will help keep the plants in good shape. Automated drip irrigation on top of the root system can aid greatly in keeping the plants irrigated properly without wastage from overhead watering. Heliconias are definitely a resource-to-reward-ratio plant; give them the resources they need to produce their flowers, and you'll be rewarded with some of the most exquisite and complex flower colors in the living world. 

H. rostrata 'Misahualli'

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens    

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