Heliconia orthotricha

Family : Heliconiaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


Helicona orthotricha has showy erect inflorescences with 5-10 bracts © Giuseppe Mazza

Helicona orthotricha has showy erect inflorescences with 5-10 bracts © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where it grows in the humid forests 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 Greek terms “orthos” = straight and “thrix” = hair, bristle, with reference to the fuzz covering at times the petioles and the bracts.

The Heliconia orthotricha L. Andersson (1982) is an evergreen perennial, rhizomatous, erect herbaceous species forming 1,5-2,5 m tall tufts. The leaves, on a 40-90 cm long, glabrous or pubescent petiole, are basal, alternate, simple, entire, oblong with pointed apex and prominent central nervation in the lower page, 0,8-1,8 m long and 15-25 cm broad, of dark green colour above, green grey below, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem. The inflorescence, on robust peduncle, is an erect terminal spike with straight or slightly waved rachis, of yellow to red colour, pubescent at times, and 5-10 bracts, alternate, distichous, coriaceous and pointed, 10-15 cm long at the base, gradually decreasing towards the apex, of pink to red colour with dark green to blackish purple margins and base at times yellow, glabrous or covered by a short down. The bracts subtend several tubular flowers whitish at the base, green at the apex, with glabrous or pubescent sepals’ margins. The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which merged and one free and 3 petals fused together, little differentiated among them, 5 fertile stamina and one staminode opposed to the free sepal; the flowers are pollinated by the hummingbirds. The fruits are globose drupes blue when ripe and 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 germination times varying from some weeks to some months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes with each section provided of several vegetative buds.

Species of easy cultivation along the most ornamental of the genus, with long flowering period and relatively contained dimensions, therefore suitable for gardens of whatever extension, of which have been selected numerous varieties among which one of the most appreciated is the ‘Imperial’ (see photo) with pink bracts and green margins and white rachis and base of the bracts. It requires high temperatures and atmospheric humidity, therefore cultivable in open air only in the humid tropical and subtropical climate zones, in full sun or slight shade, on soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, draining, maintained almost constantly humid, but without stagnations. Cultivable successfully also in pot, where it easily blooms, utilizing an organic substratum particularly draining and aerated, can be consequently 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 day temperature, best 24-26 °C, and lowest night ones not under the 15 °C. The watering must be regular and abundant in summer, letting the substratum to partially dry up, avoiding the stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, but without allowing the substratum to dry up completely, with fertilizations done preferably with slow-release balanced products with addition of microelements. The cut inflorescences, long-lasting, 10-16 days, stand amongst the most appreciated for the floral compositions and feed a flourishing trade.


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