Family : Heliconiaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Bolivia, Brazil (Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Rondônia and Tocantins), Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela where it grows in the humid forests in proximity of water streams or ponds, often in depressions periodically flooded.
The name of the genus comes from the Latin “Helconius, a, um” = of the Helicon, mountain sacred to Apollo and to the Muses in the Greek mythology; the name of the species is the Latin adjective “metallicus, a, um” = metallic, with reference to the metallic reflections of the lower page of the leaf.
Common names: metallic heliconia, red leaf heliconia, shining bird of Paradise (English).
The Heliconia metallica Planch. & Linden ex Hook. (1862) is an evergreen, perennial rhizomatous erect herbaceous species forming dense 1-3 m tall tufts. The leaves on a 3-9 cm long petiole, are basal, alternate, distichous, simple, entire, oblong-lanceolate with long pointed apex and central nervation prominent in the lower page, 0,3-1,2 m long and 10-25 cm broad, of intense green colour velvety above, dark purple with metallic reflections below, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem of about 5 cm of diameter at the base.
The inflorescence, on an up to 50 cm long peduncle, is a 25 cm long erect terminal spike with slightly waved rachis of green colour and 5-7 green bracts, at times red-pinkish, distichous, coriaceous, concave with blunt apex, about 8 cm long at the base and gradually decreasing upwards.
The bracts subtend tubular flowers, on 2-3 cm long white pedicel, of pink reddish colour with white apex, 3,5-5 cm long, rich of nectar, opening in succession. The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which are fused and one is free, and 3 merged petals, little differentiated among them, 5 fertile stamina and one staminode opposite to the free sepal; the flowers are pollinated by the hummingbirds. The fruits are about 1 cm long sub-globose drupes with blunt apex, initially white below, green above, then blue when ripe, containing 1-3 pale brown seeds, of about 0,5 cm of length and diameter.
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 months to one year, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes in spring, with each section provided with several vegetative buds.
Species essentially appreciated for the magnificent foliage, being the bracts, contrary to the overwhelming majority of the Heliconia, inconspiscuous, cultivable in the humid tropical and subtropical climate regions preferably in semi-shaded position, even if it bears the full sun. Of great ornamental effect utilized in mass, as soil cover, in particular the varieties with reduced habit, or for edges, it requires 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 can be cultivated also in capacious pots, utilizing a particularly draining and aerated organic substratum, for the decoration of patios and balconies, or for being sheltered in luminous greenhouses, verandas and winter gardens, where the climate does not allow the permanence in open air during the winter months, with high ambient humidity and diurnal temperatures and lowest night ones not under the 15 °C.
The watering must be regular and abundant in summer, leaving the substratum to partially dry up before giving water again, avoiding the stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, more spaced in winter, but without allowing the substratum to dry up completely, and the fertilizations done preferably with slow release balanced products with addition of microelements.
Synonyms: Heliconia vinosa W. Bull ex Ender (1871); Bihai metallica (Planch. & Linden ex Hook.) Kuntze (1891); Heliconia nitens hort. (1923); Heliconia nana G.Rodr. (1954).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza