are tropical and sub-tropical plants(herbs) of the order Zingiberales native to Central and South America,
the Caribbean and South Pacific Islands total over 500 species,hybrids and cultivars plants, depending on varieties range in heights from 60cm to 6 metres produce inflorescence bracts that are usually red, yellow or both but are sometimes pink or green in all combinations make exceptional cut flowers with long lasting characteristics are widely used in landscaping and are usually vigorous growers



In the American tropics, hummingbirds are the major pollinators of heliconias. Nectar feeding bats pollinate in the Solomon Islands. Some insects and honeyeaters also transfer pollen in Australia. Some natural hybrids have been found but are rare in nature. Golden Torch is one example (Psittacorum x spathocircinata) and other examples are hybrids between caribaea and bihai species such as Kawauchi.
In sub-tropical Australia you can obtain heliconias in the form of a plant, a bare-rooted rhizome or seed. For the new enthusiast we would suggest a potted plant and you can learn to repot and divide to produce more plants increasing your knowledge and understanding of growth patterns. Division by rhizome produces stronger plants as long as it is done in the growing period (September – February).
Heliconias have many botanical relatives but possess distinctive characteristics including large leaves and colourful bracteate inflorescences. Their commonly known relatives include bananas, birds-of-paradise, gingers, costus, cannas and prayer plants.
There are ever increasing numbers of heliconias as it is still possible to collect them in their natural habitat.


Heliconias can thrive in a variety of soils but prefer those that are rich in organic material and are well-drained. High soil fertility is ideal and a subsoil which while not impeding drainage, holds sufficient moisture to tide the plant over dry periods. A good knowledge of the soil type is important – soil tests can assist and local garden suppliers have a good range of soil enhancers. The desirable PH is around 5.5-6.5. As most soils are more acidic dolomite can be applied without burning.
Mulching is so important to help maintain consistent soil temperature and to impede weed growth. A light mulch such as hay, lucerne or cane is ideal.

Heliconia bihai x caribaea ‘Kawauchi’

Heliconia psittacorum x spathocircinata ‘Golden Torch’


Heliconias require ample moisture and relatively high temperatures for the best growth – both influenced by elevation, aspect and natural shelter of the area in your garden. Freedom from frost is essential . A north- westerly aspect is ideal as they are naturally warm and moist being open to the morning sun and protected from strong southerly and westerly winds.
Contouring can divert surface water and help with soil erosion.
Most heliconias can be grown in full sun to 50% shade. As a sub-tropical area we need to take into account our cooler winters if we want maximum production of flowers.


Heliconias are gross feeders and make heavy demands on the available plant foods in the soil. Fertilisers with a mixture of NPK of 12:9:8 initial application (when plants appear above the ground) are ideal.
Potassium can be applied when plants are due to flower.
Organic fertilisers will prevent the soil from becoming too acidic.


Water requirements will differ with soil types and plant varieties. In general, water well in Summer and sparingly in winter. All heliconias enjoy foliage watering.

Selection of plants

The most important decision for a home gardener is selecting the most suitable plant for the area you wish to plant in. Whilst there are numerous varieties not all make good garden specimens. The following guide may be of some help:


SCREENERS (tall, vigorous with good architecture)

Rauliniana, Hot Rio Nites, Kawauchi, Richmond Red, Black Cherry(new), Purpurea and Caribaea Gold (if warm, protected area)

'Hot Rio Nites'

Great landscaper and flowers



Great landscaper and flowers



Great landscaping hanging heliconia





Hong Kong Claw, Lobster Claw Two, Richmond Red, Kawauchi, Jacquinii, Criswick, Barbados Flat, Purpurea, Caribaea Gold, Black Cherry, Splash, Collinsiana


Most of the orthotrichas such as Eden Pink, Garden of Eden, She, Carnival, Rosey, Edge of Nite and Strawberries & Cream. Yellow Christmas, Red Holiday, Lingulata Red Tip Fan, Lobster Claw One, Alan Carle and Yellow Dancer


Psittacorums – Petra, Parakeet, Pink Blush, St Vincent’s Red, Crackerjack, Samara, Andromeda, Flame

Lobster Claw Two

Prolific producer


'Yellow Christmas'

Vibrant colour, winter flower



Great cut flower and striking colour



Beautiful winter flowers



Huge flowers with flecks of maroon


'Barbados Flat'

Huge flowers


Harvesting and keeping heliconia flowers

It is best practice to pick flowers early in the morning and place in water immediately. Do not refrigerate as the bracts will go black. A cool, non-breezy spot will best suit longevity.
A sturdy vase with a heavy base is best to showcase heliconia flowers – can half fill with water and stems do not require trimming daily.

Pests and Diseases

Heliconias are normally free of pests and diseases in the ground.
Some problems to look out for:



The worst enemy for heliconias is fungus usually caused from overwatering or if soil drainage is poor. A good preventative measure if growing rhizomes is to dip in systemic fungicide before planting.


Of fungal origin and more prominent in colder area


Include grasshoppers, cluster caterpillar. In a garden situation it is advisable not to spray chemicals if it can be avoided.
In shadehouse conditions: Red spider mite. Aphids, mealybugs – use insecticidal soaps such as eco oil