Heliconia is named after Mount Helicon, the seat of the Muses, nine goddesses of the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. These are known as lobster-claw, wild plantain, flowering banana, parrot flower, macaw flower and false bird-of-paradise. Heliconiaceae in the order Zingiberales, are among the showiest plants of the Neotropical rainforest and represent a spectacular co-evolutionary adaptive radiation with hummingbirds. Heliconia originated in the Late Eocene (39 million years ago), making it the oldest known clade of hummingbird-pollinated plants. Heliconia, the only genus of the family Heliconiaceae, has approximately 120 species in tropical America and the western Pacific. These large perennial herbs have brightly colored bracts and bear numerous flowers. Heliconia are typically pollinated by hummingbirds. Most of the 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, and a few are naturalized in Florida, Gambia, Thailand and Costa Rica. The plants have stout, reed-like stems and are related to Tropical Gingers, Bird of Paradise, Bananas and Canna Lilies, whose leaves are all similar. These are all grouped in the order Zingiberales, which includes many familiar plants, and are used as ornamental plants (Bird of Paradise flower, Heliconias, Prayer-Plant, Tropical Gingers), food crops (bananas, plantains, arrowroot), spices and traditional medicines (ginger, cardamom, turmeric, galangal and myoga). I saw a nice selection of these plants when I visited Costa Rica this year and thought it would make an interesting post.
They had a side of Albert park filled with a collection of beautiful specimen flowers and I decided to present them along with the names. It is quite a cosmopolitan collection, filled with little flower puzzles. I write these posts on the specifics of flowers, including names and a little history both for myself and for you, the reader. Flowers and plants are beautiful in their own right but knowing what kind of plant you are seeing allows you to find parallels and insights into your own gardening and gardens in general. Some of these individual flowers have attracted hundreds of thousands of interested people to join societies, discuss in garden clubs and even to host shows devoted to a particular flower. Examples include Roses, Canna Lillies, Crocosmia, Dahlias, Succulents and Chrysanthemums to name just a few. These garden groups are often not easy to find but show a light on the culture of people living in a particular locale. For instance, New Zealanders or Kiwis are crazy interested in succulents. I hope you too will find these garden posts useful and will enhance your enjoyment the next time you visit a garden or see an unusual plant.