Heliconias, the Dramatic Flowers of the Tropics.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Would you like to grow heliconias?
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.
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.
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.
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© 2012 Mary Wickison