Family : Heliconiaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (Campeche, Chiapas, Colima, Guerraro Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Vera Cruz and Yucatán) and Nicaragua where it grows in open spaces in the humid forests and along 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 to the Muses in the Greek mythology; the species is honoured to the American botanist Guy N. Collins (1872-1938).
Common names: hanging heliconia (English); heliconia colgante, hoja de sal, platanillo, platanillo colorado (Spanish).
The Heliconia collinsiana Griggs (1903) is an evergreen, perennial, erect rhizomatous herbaceous species forming 1,5-5 m tall dense tufts. The leaves, on an up to about 1 m long petiole, are basal, alternate, simple, entire, oblong, gradually pointed at the apex, with central nervation prominent in the lower page, 1-1,35 m long, of bright green colour above, covered by a thick white waxy patina below. The sheathing tubular foliar bases form an up to 2,5 m long pseudo-stem, with a diameter of about 5 cm at the base, also covered by white waxy patina.
The inflorescence, on an up to 30 cm long thin peduncle, is a 35-45 cm long, drooping terminal spike with slightly waved reddish rachis and 12-18 spaced bracts, lanceolate, coriaceous, of intense pink or bright red colour and covered by a white bloom, long at the base up to about 25 cm, gradually decreasing towards the apex, which enclose several golden yellow tubular flowers opening in succession. The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which merged and one free, and three petals fused together, little differentiated between them, 5 fertile stamina and one staminode opposite to the free sepal; the flowers are pollinated by the hummingbirds. The fruits are sub-globose drupes of 1,5 cm of diameter, initially yellow, then glossy dark blue when ripe, 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 variable from 1 to 6 months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes in spring, with each section provided with several vegetative buds. Much appreciated species, apart the ornamental characteristics of the foliage and of the hanging inflorescences, also for the strength, ease of cultivation and the long blooming period, from July to November in the places of origin, cultivable in the humid tropical and subtropical climate zones; in the areas with long dry periods is to be regularly and abundantly watered in particular during the warmest months. It requires a position in full sun or partially shaded and soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, well draining, maintained almost constantly humid, but without stagnations and a position sheltered from the winds.
It adapts to the cultivation in pot, using an organic substratum particularly draining and aerated, in order to be 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, ideal 24-26 °C, and lowest night ones not under the 15 °C, even if bearing some degrees less for a short period. The watering must be regular and abundant in summer, avoiding the stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, but without allowing the substratum to dry up completely, with fertilizations preferably done with slow release balanced products with addition of microelements.
It is easily subject to attacks of mites and mealy bugs, to be treated, in case of serious infestation, with specific products.
The cut inflorescences, of great ornamental effect and long lasting, about 2 weeks, are often utilized in the floral compositions.
Synonyms: Bihai collinsiana (Griggs) Griggs (1904).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza