Heliconia spp.

The following introductory quotes can be found in: Berry, F, Kress, J (1991) Heliconia, an identification guide. Smithsonian Institution Press 334 p.

“Heliconias attain their most luxuriant growth in the humid lowland tropics at elevations below 1,500 feet. The greatest number of species (many locally endemic) is found in middle-elevation rain and cloud forest habitats. The most conspicuous members of the genus inhabit open sites in secondary growth along roadsides, on riverbanks, and in patches of light in the forest.

In the American tropics, hummingbirds are the exclusive pollinators of Heliconia. The birds are attracted by the bright red, pink, orange, and yellow colours of the bracts and flowers. The length and curvature of the flower tube in many cases match the length and curvature of the bill of the pollinating hummingbird. Although each flower is open for only one day, there are usually many flowers per bract and many bracts per inflorescence, so that a single plant may be in flower for a long period of time.”


Heliconia acuminata & Heliconia psittacorum


Heliconia bihai
Helicona bihai has one of the largest inflorescences amongst species of Heliconia. The hover-fly larvae (rat-tailed maggots) that can inhabit the flooded inflorescence bracts are used by the Yanomami to remove wax from the ears; the larvae, which are apparently inserted head-first into the auditory canal, burrow into the ear consuming the wax as they go, and then emerge spontaneously (1). The rhizome of this plant is used in traditional medicine (2).

(1) Miliken, W, Albert, B (1999) Yanomami; a forest people. RBG Kew 161 p.

(2) Mors, WB, Rizzini, CT and Pereira, NA (2000) Medicinal Plants of Brazil. Reference Publications Inc: 501 p.