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Heliconias, the Dramatic Flowers of the Tropics.

Updated on April 29, 2018
Blond Logic profile image

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

Helicônia rostrata
Helicônia rostrata | Source

Tropical Heliconias

Before arriving in Brazil, I had never heard of heliconias. Now, here in our garden we have various varieties and are on the look out for more. They are a group of fascinating and wonderfully dramatic plants. I first saw them as a cut flower in a restaurant. The restaurateur told me where he bought them and I went to see them at the nursery. Since then, I have purchased many different plants from that nursery including several varieties of heliconia.

Another unexpected bonus about these tropical plants is they attract hummingbirds! We have seen four types on our heliconias here in our garden. In fact, hummingbirds are the main pollinators.

Types of Heliconia

It is thought there are up to 200 different species of heliconia. These are mainly grown in the tropics and as ornamental flowers for florists. They range in size from 1.5 feet to 15 feet and are normally found in rain forests. The best growing conditions, therefore, are ones that can mimic a rainforest environment. A warm humid environment suits these plants perfectly.

If you have a heated conservatory, you could keep them in there as well. Be sure to keep the humidity up, misting frequently will help achieve this. They are always an eye catcher and so unusual for people to see. There are some varieties which produce flowers that are upright and others that are pendulum types that hang down.

For planting, it is best to start with the tuber, not the seed. Many sites such as Amazon sell seeds but opt for buying the tubers as you will have more success with it.

Heliconia | Source

Transplanting Heliconia

Here is a photo of some of our taller heliconia . They were put in this location as a temporary measure and basically left there. This isn't a good spot for them as they get too much sun and wind. This is the reason we decided to dig them up and move them.

Although we have cut out the stalks that have died, they have spread and are now cramped and need moving and thinning out. To do this I used a garden fork, a spade, and a wheel barrow.

Heliconia with roots
Heliconia with roots | Source

Digging Out Plants for Transplanting

I began by clearing the surrounding area of weeds, grass and other items that would impede the extraction. We have sandy soil here and I started with the fork. If you are moving plants you may need to wet the ground first. Our sandy soil is loose so for us that is less of a problem.

I began with the fork inserting it about a foot away from the stalk. I did this around the entire base of the plant. This made the plant lean slightly which is when I started using my spade to remove excess sand near the roots. Forking and loosening and just when I was about to give up and call in a backhoe driver, I had loosened it enough to pull it free.

Then straight into the wheelbarrow and I transported them to their new location.

Bed for heliconia
Bed for heliconia | Source

Choosing a Location for Heliconia

Have your new bed ready for transplanting. I have made the bed about 10" deep. Into this I have added clay, compost, and chicken manure. Your requirements might be different. I have added clay because we are mostly sand and all the water and nutrients get sucked away. I have also decided to plant near a building and in the shade of a mango tree. I am hoping this will provide the plants with protection from the wind and provide ample shade.

As you can see from the photo above, I have made a trench. I want to create a wall of flowers, hence the reason for a long trench.

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Heliconia roots
Heliconia roots | Source

Preparing Heliconia for Transplanting

Before they get planted, the stalks need cutting off. All the energy wants to be put into setting down new roots. You will be planting just the rhizome of the plant.

Take a look at the picture, you will see I have left the long root intact but removed the green foliage from the stalk. I did this with a machete.

Gerber Gator Machete - Black w/ Nylon Sheath [31-000758]
Gerber Gator Machete - Black w/ Nylon Sheath [31-000758]
I don't like the term gardening. I prefer 'jungle management'. Here, we use a machete for cutting everything from plants to coconuts. Once you begin to use a machete in the garden you will wonder why you used other tools. The machete is one of my favorite tools now.

I placed this root into the moist bed that I had prepared. I spaced the rhizomes about 18 inches apart. I then put more compost, and some dried chicken manure, I moistened this before replacing the sand. Then I covered with the top layer and sprinkled it with water again. With daily watering the first growth should appear in about 10 days to 2 weeks.

Growing for the Florist Trade

Because of their exotic appeal and hardiness after cutting, the heliconias are being grown commercially for sale to florists. The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark are growing these just for this reason, of course in these countries they would need protection from the climate.

The type that is commonly grown for the florist trade are an upright small variety. These work well displays and last longer than other varieties.

They can also be found in the wild in Hawaii, Florida, Central America and parts of South America. Here in Brazil there are about 40 different types. I often see them growing wild along river banks as I drive around my local area.

Selling Flowers

If you wish to sell flowers to florists, restaurants or hotels, you will need to produce exceptional quality. No bugs, discolored flowers or wind damage. These would best be grown indoors in a controlled environment. Take either samples or photos of your stock to ascertain if there is an interest in what you are selling.

© 2012 Mary Wickison


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    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      8 years ago from Brazil

      Hello unknown spy,

      They are a beautiful flower. Here in Brazil, you can often see them growing wild in low lying areas near water.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      8 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Mary615.

      I lived briefly in Southern Florida, Tequesta, but at the time I was too busy raising a family to be digging in the garden. Our temperature here in Brazil is similar to Southern Florida and I imagine many of the same plants are grown. Unfortunately, the oranges here aren't even close to a Florida orange .

      I have many more heliconia to move, a job for next week. This new location, I hope will be better suited to them.

      I am pleased you enjoyed the hub.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Life Under Construction 

      8 years ago from Neverland

      Very beautiful. Heliconias are called Birds Of Paradise.. such a beauty.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      These beautiful flowers grow well here in S. Florida. It is truly a beautiful flower. I've never dug them up as you have explained. What a job that must have been.

      Great information here on this lovely flower.

      I voted this Hub UP, and will share.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      8 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Billybuc, Teaches12345, and Flashmakeit,

      I am so glad you enjoyed it. The flowers are spectacular. In my garden I find the wind and sea air to be a problem, but shall persevere to find the ideal place.

      As for the machete, well.. I could probably use a knife but it makes me feel like Katherine Hepburn in African Queen. LOL

    • flashmakeit profile image


      8 years ago from usa

      That is a beautiful plant which makes me want to Google it and see how many pictures I can find of the 200 species. Thanks for explaining how to transplant it.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      They are beautiful. They must be pretty solid if you have to use a machete to cut of the leaves. It sounds like they need shade and shelter to grow well. Thanks for the information on this tropical plant.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The pictures are fabulous! I have never been to the tropics but I'm always amazed when I see pictures of the vegetation with their vibrant colors. Great hub!


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