Heliconia latispatha

Family : Heliconiaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


Heliconia latispatha, Heliconiaceae, expanded lobster claw

With 1,5-4 m tufts, Heliconia latispatha is much grown in the tropics © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (Campeche, Chiapas, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz and Yucatán), Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, where it lives mainly at the margins of the humid forests, of the glades, the footpaths and of the water streams, at low and medium altitudes.

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 is the combination of the Latin adjective “latus, a, um” = broad and of the substantive “spatha, ae” = sword, with reference to the bracts.

Common names: expanded lobster claw (English); heliconia-asa-de-arara (Portuguese-Brazil); cachete, chichica, guacamaya, platanilla, platanillo, tanay (Spanish).

The Heliconia latispatha Benth. (1846) is an evergreen, perennial, rhizomatous erect herbaceous species forming dense 1,5-4 m tall tufts. The leaves, on a 20-50 cm long petiole, are basal, alternate, simple, entire, oblong-elliptic with pointed apex and prominent central nervation in the lower page, 0,5-1,5 m long and 15-40 cm broad, of bright green colour, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem.

The inflorescence, which rises over the leaves on a robust peduncle, is an erect terminal spike, up to about 40 cm long, with generally greenish wavy rachis and 7-15 alternated bract spirally arranged, acuminate, coriaceous, with the concavity bent upward, of decreasing length towards the apex of the inflorescence, the lower ones 14-25 cm long, of yellow colour at the rachis, then orange to red. The bracts subtend 10-15 tubular, about 4 cm long, flowers, of yellow to orange colour with the margins of the sepals green, opening in succession. The flowers, at bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which merged and one free, and three petals fused together, little differentiated from each other, 5 fertile stamina and one staminode opposite to the free sepal; the flowers are pollinated by the hummingbirds. The fruits are globose drupes about 0,8-1 cm long, blackish purple when ripe, containing 1-3 seeds about 0,6 cm long.

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 germination times variable, from 1 to 6 months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes with each section provided of various vegetative buds. It is a species with a vigorous growth forming in short time wide tufts, amply diffused in the wild and frequently cultivated, along with the numerous varieties which have been selected with tonalities of different colour and more contained size, for the foliage as well as for the particularly decorative and very long-lasting inflorescences. Cultivable in the humid tropical and subtropical climate zones in full sun or slight shade on soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, maintained almost constantly humid, but without stagnations.

It well adapts to the cultivation in pot, in particular the varieties of reduced dimensions, utilizing an organic substratum with addition of siliceous sand or agri-perlite for a 30% to improve the drainage, therefore it can be sheltered in greenhouses or in particularly luminous locations out from the forementioned regions, with high ambiental humidity, 70% or more, and high day temperatures, ideal 24-26 °C, with lowest nocturnal ones over the 16 °C, it can resist to lower temperatures, but in this case it hardly flowers, unless the same are of short duration. The watering must be regular and abundant in summer, avoiding stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, allowing the substratum to partially dry up before giving water again, with fertilizations done with slow releasing balanced products with addition of microelements. The cut inflorescences, lasting 10-14 days, are commercialized to be used in the floral compositions.

Synonyms: Bihai latispatha (Benth.) Griggs (1904); Heliconia aequatoriensis Loes. (1916).


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