September 20, 2012

Giants and Dwarfs-A Tale of Heliconias- part 2- the Dwarfs 

H. aurantiaca
a petite cane type, 
growing to 6 feet
 In the substantial Heliconia genus of 300+ species, there is a wide variance in just about all aspects of plant size and growing habits. Like bamboos, there are dwarf and giant types, spreading and clumping types. Some species are prized specimens and some are invasive weeds. In this blog, I'll look at the "dwarf" size group ( under 6 feet tall). As with many plant groups, some are very petite and fairly fragile, while some others are of modest size and quite robust. Most of these species make decent nursery plants in large containers, provided that the potting soil is rich and well drained, with an even supply of moisture. Growing this group in the ground can be easy enough, if there is wind protection, good humidity and deep soil with great drainage.  

H. longiflora
an understory grower,
growing to 4 feet tall

One of the down sides to growing this group of species is their short supply; seeds and rhizomes are uncommon. There are a number of Heliconia growers in Puerto Rico who collectively have a vast array of species and export seeds, so there is hope to see more of these species in cultivation. There are many species of small stature, and some of the more robust species, such as H. angusta, are available from tissue-culture and appear in retail stores in garden centers in this area with some regularity.

H. angusta
The Christmas Heliconia
 The stalwart 'Jamaica Dwarf' can actually grow to 4 or 5 feet with enough water and fertilizer, but is more commonly seen at 2-3 feet. In an odd twist, some of the fast-spreading species in the psittacorum / choconiana section are widely marketed in flower in very small pots, as small as 6 inches. These "petite" plants have been chemically treated to regulate their growth, resulting in a plant that flowers prematurely at a fraction of its mature height. This chemical regulation wears off, and the dwarf can grow into a substantial plant in short order !

'Dwarf Jamaican'

'Carli's Sharonii'

As flashy landscape plants, Heliconias are peerless; few other plants can make such a statement. Given a bit of growing know-how, a gardener can enjoy the color and panache of this group of plants in fairly small confines. Remember that the plants need rather tropical conditions: heat ( above 55 F at all times), bright filtered light, even moisture, rich and well-drained soil, and plenty of room to grow. Heliconias are not a set-and-forget plant, but with a little attention you get a lot of reward. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens   

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