Family : Heliconiaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to south-eastern Brazil (Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Trindade) where it lives in the humid Atlantic forest often close to water streams.
The name of the genus comes from the Latin “Heliconius, a, um” of the Helicon, mountain sacred to Apollo and the Muses in the Greek mythology; the name of the species s the Latin adjective “angustus, a, um” = cramped, narrow, with reference to the width of the leaves.
Common names: Christmas heliconia (English), bico-de guará, helicônia-vermelha, pássaro-de-fogo (Portu- guese Brazil); Navidad (Spanish).
The Heliconia angusta Vell. (1829) is an evergreen, perennial, erect rhizomatous herbaceous species, forming 0,6-2 m tall dense tufts. The leaves, on a 18-30 cm long petiole, are basal, alternated, simple, entire, narrow-oblong with pointed base and apex and central nervation prominent in the lower page, 60-90 cm long and 8-15 cm broad, of dark green colour above, paler below, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem. The inflorescence, on short peduncle, is a 20-30 cm long erect terminal spike with slightly waved red rachis and 6-10 distichous bracts, long pointed, 12-16 cm long at the base and decreasing progressively towards the apex, coriaceous, of bright red colour, usually enclosing 6 white flowers, about 4 cm long, opening in succession on an orange pedicel. The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which merged and one free, and 3 petals fused together, little differentiated between them, 5 fertile stamina and one staminode opposite to the free sepal; the flowers are pollinated by the hummingbirds. The fruits are globose drupes of blue colour when ripe containing 1-3 seeds.
It reproduces by seed, previously scarified and kept in water for 3 days to soften the tegument, in organic loam with addition of siliceous sand or agri-perlite for a 30%, maintained humid at the temperature of 26-28 °C, with variable germination times, from some weeks to some months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes.
Species amongst the most popular of the genus Heliconia, appreciated due to the neat contrast between the white of the flowers and the red of the bracts and due to the relatively contained dimensions which allow utilizing it in mass as soil cover, for flower beds, edges and mixed edges in the humid tropical and subtropical climate zones. Its cultivation may be tried in sheltered position in the milder warm temperate climate zones, where temperatures less than +5 °C are very short lasting exceptions. Besides the species, are frequently cultivated varieties with differently coloured bracts, in particular yellow and orange. It requires full sun, but grows well and blooms also in partial shade, and soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, draining, maintained almost constantly humid, but without stagnations. It is successfully cultivated also in pot, where it easily blooms, using a particularly draining and aerated organic substratum, for the decoration of patios and balconies or for being sheltered in greenhouses, verandas and particularly luminous winter gardens, where the climate does not allow the permanence in open air during the winter months, with high values of ambient humidity and of diurnal temperatures, ideal 24-26 °C, with lowest night values not under the 15 °C. Watering must be regular and abundant in summer, allowing the substratum to partially dry up without giving water again, avoiding stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, but without ever allowing the substratum to dry up completely, with fertilizations, in spring-summer, done preferably with slow-release balanced products with addition of microelements. The cut inflorescences, lasting 8-10 days, are utilized in the floral compositions.
Synonyms: Heliconia bicolor Benth. (1839); Heliconia angustifolia Hook. (1849); Bihai angustifolia (Hook.) Kuntze (1891); Bihai angusta (Vell.) Griggs (1915); Heliconia bidentata Barreiros (1969); Heliconia laneana Barreiros (1974); Heliconia aurorea Emygdio & E.Santos (1976); Heliconia citrina Emygdio & E.Santos (1976); Heliconia fluminensis Emygdio & E.Santos (1976); Heliconia lacletteana Emygdio & E.Santos (1976).