Heliconia (Lobster Claw; False Bird of Paradise)

Heliconia is a genus of about 200 species in the family Heliconiaceae, native to the tropical Americas, with some species occurring in the Pacific Ocean.
Heliconia is a beautiful, exotic looking plant with multi-color bracts and tiny, hidden flowers, some of which you can see peeking out from the upper bracts. The showy colored structures we call “flowers” are actually modified leaves, called bracts, which contain the small true flowers inside them. Heliconia is so unique that once you see it, you’ll never forget it! Appreciated for its glamorous appearance, Heliconia is the perfect addition to many different bouquets and arrangements.

Name meaning

Heliconia is named after Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece that is known in Greek mythology to be the home of the Muses, the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts.

The common name “False Bird of Paradise” comes from its similarity to the Bird of Paradise flowers (Strelitzia).

The name “Lobster Claw” comes from the shape of its flower bracts. which resemble the shape of a lobster’s claw.

Heliconia symbolism

Heliconia represents youth, pride and great returns.

Interesting facts about Heliconia

Hanging Lobster Claw (Heliconia rostrata)

Some species, such as Heliconia rostrata, has downward facing flowers which dangle down from the main stem.
Heliconia rostrata, also known as Hanging Heliconia or Hanging Lobster Claw is a very popular species and one of the most common in cultivation. It is native to Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, but planted in the tropics worldwide.

Heliconia rostrata (Patujú) is one of the national flowers of Bolivia, along with the Cantua buxifolia (Kantuta or Cantuta).

Related Genera and Family

Heliconia is the sole genus in the family Heliconiaceae. This genus was formerly classified in the family Musaceae and it’s most closely related to the gingers, bananas and their relatives.

Pollination of Heliconias

Both bats and hummingbirds pollinate these plants, while the small water reservoirs in the leaves enhance the lives of many mosquitoes and frogs.
The flowers produce an abundance of nectar, and the color and shape of the flowers are adapted to specific species. The “flowers” are actually modified leaves, called bracts, which contain the true flowers inside them, so that only specific birds can reach their nectar, predominantly hummingbirds. They also open their flowers at night to attract nectar-eating bats that use certain chemical cues and odors rather than sight to locate food sources. The long leaves of these plants may serve as a shelter for certain tropical bats, as they roost in a “tent” they made from a leaf.

Heliconia Plant Data