Heliconia episcopalis

Family : Heliconiaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


Heliconia episcopalis, Heliconiaceae, Bishop’s heliconia

Heliconia episcopalis inflorescence reaches 25 cm and lasts six months © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Bolivia, Brazil (Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Espirito Santo, Federal District of Brasilia, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Rio de Janeiro, Roraima, Rondônia, São Paulo, Tocantins and Trindade), Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela, where it grows in the forests in open areas usually along the banks of the water streams and at the margins of swampy zones.

The genus name comes from the Latin “Heliconius, a, um” = of the Helicon, mountain sacred to Apollo and to the Muses in the Greek mythology; the name of the species is the Latin adjective “episcopalis” = episcopal, of the bishop, due to the resemblance of the inflorescence to the headgear (mitre) of the bishops.

Common names: bishop’s heliconia (English); chapéu-de-frade, chapéu-do-bipo, patujú (Portuguese-Brazil); platanillo, platanillo cetro (Spanish).

The Heliconia episcopalis Vell. (1829) is an evergreen, perennial, rhizomatous erect herbaceous species, forming in nature dense up to 2-4 m tall tufts, but which, in cultivation, keep lower, 0,75-2,3 m. The leaves, on a 0,5-0,8 m long petiole, are basal, alternate, simple, entire, ovate-oblong with shortly pointed apex and central nervation prominent below, 0,8-1,6 m long and 20-40 cm broad, of intense green colour, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem.

The inflorescence, on robust peduncle, is an erect terminal spike, compact, about 25 cm long, with pubescent rachis, on which are evident the scars of the fallen bracts, of green to yellow, to red, colour.

The 10 to 40 bracts are deciduous, alternate, distichous, imbricate, strictly overlapped for almost all their length, 4-5 cm long, of red to orange colour at the base, orange to yellow at the apex, enclosing 2-6 tubular flowers white at the base, greenish yellow to orange at the apex, which open in succession. The fruits are glossy dark blue drupes when ripe, containing 1-3 seeds.

It reproduces by seed, previously kept in water for 2 days to soften the tegument, in organic loam with addition of siliceous sand or agri-perlite for a 30%, kept humid at the temperature of 26-28 °C, with germination times varying from 1 to 6 months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes.

It is a species with very long-lasting inflorescence, 6 months or more, of particular and unusual shape for the genus, flowering almost continuously during the year, cultivable in the humid tropical and subtropical climate regions, in full sun or partial shade, on soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, perfectly draining, kept constantly humid, but without stagnations. Elsewhere, it can be cultivated in capacious pots for being sheltered in the winter months in greenhouses, verandas or luminous winter gardens, utilizing an organic substratum with addition of siliceous sand or perlite for a 30% to improve the drainage, with high ambiental humidity and diurnal temperatures not under 15 °C. The watering must be regular and abundant in summer, allowing the substratum to partly dry up before watering again, avoiding stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, but without allowing the substratum to dry up completely, and the fertilizations done preferably with slow releasing balanced products with addition of microelements. It is easily subject to attacks of mites and mealy bugs, to be treated in case of serious infestation, with specific products. The cut inflorescences, lasting 7-9 days, are often used in the floral compostions.

Synonyms: Heliconia ferdinando-coburgi Szyszyl. ex Wawra (1888); Heliconia biflora Eichler ex Petersen (1890); Heliconia thyrsoidea Mart. ex Petersen (1890); Bihai episcopalis (Vell.) Kuntze (1891); Bihai ferdinando-coburgi (Szyszyl. ex Wawra) Kuntze (1891).


To appreciate the biodiversity within the family HELICONIACEAE and find other species, please click here.