Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Exciting World of Heliconias and Gingers

Heliconias have become synonymous with the tropics. They can be found throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as throughout much of the Antipodes area and South East Asia. Did Gauguin include them in his paintings of an Edenic Tahiti? I haven't noticed but most of the species are indigenous to the New World and it's possible that they had not yet made the trek across the Pacific Ocean. I am sure if they were already established, they would be documented in his work. Paul Gauguin is just so heliconia-like.
The beauty of these species (and there a lot of species, maybe 200-300?) lies in the brightly coloured bracts that are mistakenly called the flowers. The actual flower is the tiny little flowers that emerge from the large showy bracts. Because these large, often upright inflorescences hold water and are often very brightly coloured they are a magnet to the avian population. The favour is more than returned as most heliconias are pollinated by hummingbirds and others. Some people will plant heliconias for the attractive, banana leaf foliage that can be very exotic looking.

The picture below is a close up of Heliconia Chartacea or Sexy Red. The seeds are very attractive and are absolutely irresistible to parrots, tanagers and even the wild parakeets that make an appearance several times in the garden.

I like Sexy Red very much because unlike its equally attactive cousin, Sexy Pink, this variety is classified as a "clumping" variety. This means that it stays where it is put and does not walk all over your garden. The bracts are long and spirally and the leaves are quite distinct as they are paddle shaped with a white powder on their underside that looks almost silver in the sun.
This leaf differentiation is important when purchasing plants that are not in bloom. Sexy Pink's leaves are very shredded looking. Attractive in their own way, they are instantly identifiable if you know what you are looking for. Sexy Orange is commonly confused with Sexy Pink but the leaf is larger and not as tattered. The problem with getting a Sexy Orange instead of Sexy Pink is that the orange variety only flowers from maybe June to October and is a much larger plant. Conservatively, it can reach 15 feet easily and it is a major walker.

This is Heliconia orthotricha "She" (Heliconiaceae). I'm not sure who named her but they got it so right. "She" is truly beautiful. Covered in velvet-y white hairs, this heliconia has an unusual texture to touch. Soft and feminine. Her bright pink bracts are edged with lime green. This beauty is just coming into bloom in my garden and "She" is right on schedule as her time is December to July. An erect flower, I am not sure if this puts her in the Bihai bracket. It may.

Classic red ginger or alpinia purpurata. A standard in any Caribbean garden. This photo was taken early in the morning as the sun was coming up.