Family : Heliconiaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela, where it grows in open areas in the forests at low altitude, in zones characterized by marked seasonality.
The name of the genus comes from the Latin “Heliconius, a, um” = of the Helicon, mountain sacred to Apollo and the Muses in the Greek mythology; the name of the species is the combination of the Greek terms “platys” = wide and “stachys” = spike, with obvious reference.
Common names: orange hanging lobate claw (English); minòn, platanilla, platanillo (Spanish).
The Heliconia platystachys Baker (1893) is an evergreen, perennial, rhizomatous erect herbaceous species forming dense 3-5 m tall tufts. The leaves on a 0,5-1 m long pruinose petiole are basal, alternate, simple, entire, oblong with brusquely pointed apex, 0,7-1,7 m long and 15-38 cm broad, with the sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a 1-2 m long, pruinose pseudo-stem; the foliar lamina is often subdivided perpendicularly to the rachis in numerous sections of variable breadth.
The inflorescence, on a robust tomentose purple red peduncle, is a 0,7-1 m long drooping terminal spike, with tomentose red wavy rachis and 10-20 bracts with pointed apex and concavity facing downwards, alternate, spaced, spirally arranged, coriaceous, red at the base, greenish yellow at the margins and at the apex, 22-24 cm long at the base of the inflorescence, decreasing towards the apex. The bracts enclose 6-8 greenish yellow tubular flowers 4-5 cm long, on an about 1 cm long tomentose pedicel, opening in succession. The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with 3 sepals, two of which merged and one free and 3 petals fused together, 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 sub globose drupes, dark blue when ripe, about 1,8 cm long and of 1,5 cm of diameter, containing 1-3 blackish, oblong, seeds about 1,2 cm long.
It reproduces by seed, previously kept in water for 2 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, 1-6 months or more, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes. Species of high ornamental and landscape value due to its foliage and the showy drooping, brilliantly coloured, inflorescences, presents a long flowering period going on from March to July, in the rainy season, but needs a well defined dry period for the induction to flower, suitable therefore to tropical and subtropical climates with marked seasonality.
It requires full sun exposition or partial shade, sheltered from the winds, and soils rich of organic substance, draining, maintained constantly humid in spring-summer, but without stagnations, rather dry in winter. Where the climate does not allow the permanence in open air during the winter months, it can be cultivated in capacious pots to be sheltered in greenhouses, verandas or luminous winter gardens, utilizing an organic substratum with addition of siliceous sand or agri-perlite for a 30% to improve the drainage, with high ambient humidity and day temperatures, ideal 24-26 °C, and lowest night ones not under the 15 °C. The watering must be regular and abundant in spring-summer, avoiding stagnations, cause of easy rottenness, spaced in winter, leaving the substratum to dry up almost completely before giving water again, with fertilizations preferably done with slow release balanced products with addition of microelements.
The long lasting (about 12 days) cut inflorescences are particularly appreciated in the floral compositions.
Synonyms: Bihai platystachys (Baker) Griggs (1904); Heliconia catheta R.R.Sm. (1975).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza