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.
On my visit to Madagascar, I chose Natural Habitat (NatHab) as my tour group due to good reviews by friends and some internet investigation. I think in Madagascar, and Africa in general, it is best to visit with a tour. It is possible to book things on your own but these are poor countries, with limited lodging and transport options, often requiring private plane and car services. Both for safety and to avoid the headaches, I recommend a reputable tour service unless you simply want to go to one hotel for your stay. While Natural Habitat was a little more expensive, the hotels were really nice, there were local guides in addition to the tour director and the complex business of getting around in Madagascar was handled seamlessly. The Vakona Forest Lodge was the first hotel we stayed in after our arrival in Antananarivo and as you can see, it was a beautiful place with lovely gardens. This was our home base to visit Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Reserve of Perinet), quite a mouthful. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a 100 square mile (155 square km) protected area, located about 93 miles (150 km) east of Antananarivo, consisting principally of primary growth forest in Alaotra-Mangoro Region in eastern Madagascar. The park’s two component parts are Mantadia National Park and Analamazoatra Reserve, which is best known for its population of Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri. The Analamazaotra (or Périnet) Special Reserve (ASR), known locally as Andasibe after the nearby village, was once part of the larger Mantadia National Park which also included Maromizaha Classified Forest to the southeast and Anosibe an’ala to the south. However logging and deforestation for farming has resulted in these parks now being isolated.