Story Behind the Science
Tropical flowers are often admired for their color and dramatic appearance. The heliconia flower is no exception. The vibrant colors of the “flower” are really the plant’s “bracts,” which mimic the appearance of a flower. The bracts are actually a leaf structure at the base of flower. The flower itself is rather small and often hidden altogether. Specialized pollinators of the flowers include hummingbirds, bats, butterflies and sometimes others depending on the individual species of heliconia.
The heliconia flower is native to Central and South American tropical areas, but because it is easy to cultivate, this plant is a household favorite and can be easily grown in a garden and displayed for ornamental purposes.
The main pests of heliconia flowers include mealybugs, scales and nematodes. These pests are usually simple to control. Nematodes are essentially small worms, which may attack the roots of the plant. As a result, it is encouraged that heliconias be replanted every few years to prevent the spreading of these tiny pests.
Many tropical flowers, in addition to the broader tropical ecosystems, are threatened by everyday human activities. For example, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have been wiped out due to the human need for both wood and land sources. As a result, a sizeable chunk of biodiversity has been bruised, if not completely destroyed.
Some of the activities that have negatively impacted rainforests include the logging and paper industries, agricultural interests, subsistence farming, mining operations and the cattle industry. To fix these problems, or at least to assist in reducing their impact, more sustainable practices could be used in the processes of logging and urbanizing. Local people should be educated on how to use the natural resources the rainforests have to offer, such as nuts, fruits and herbs.
Did You Know?
- The heliconias are related to ginger, bananas and the bird of paradise flowers.Learn More »
- Many species of animals depend on heliconia flowers. A variety of tiny aquatic organisms may live in the leaf structures at the flower’s base, which gathers water. Other animals, which feed on the flower’s nectar, include hummingbirds and butterflies.Learn More »
- Heliconias are often referred to as lobster claws, wild plantains or false bird of paradise flowers.Learn More »
- The name “heliconia” is derived from Mount Helicon, where the Muses of Greek mythology sat.Learn More »
- Unlike many other flowers, heliconias are harvested when they have reached maturity because they will not bloom after being cut.Learn More »
- Heliconia leaves and other parts of the plant are often used in household chores in some Asian cultures, though the plants are not native to those areas.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Heliconia Flowers||Flowering Plants|
|How many species?||Between 120 and 400||Approximately 260,000|
|Where do they occur?||Heliconias are native to the South and Central American tropics.||Flowering plants are found in all habitats, aside from the most extreme environments.|
|How are they pollinated?||Certain heliconias (such as the pink, yellow, red and orange species) are pollinated exclusively by hummingbirds while others (like the green heliconia) are pollinated by nectar-feeding bats.||Various pollinators form mutualistic relationships with angiosperms, and some are often specialized to fit with certain flower’s structures.|
|Do they have predators?||Usually pests like mealybugs, scales and nematodes||Predators of flowering plants include various herbivores.|