Family : Heliconiaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Ecuador and Peru, where it lives in the humid forests at low and medium altitudes in zones characterized by high annual rainfall.
The name 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 “velleris” genitive of the Latin substantive “vellus” = fleece, wool and “gero” = carrier, with reference to the fluff covering rachis and bracts of the inflorescence.
Common names: furry heliconia, fuzzy hanging heliconia, hairy hanging helliconia (English); helicônea-peluda (Portuguese–Brazil); heliconia peluda (Spansh).
The Heliconia vellerigera Poepp. (1836) is an evergreen, perennial, erect, rhizomatous herbaceous species forming dense, 3-5 m tall tufts. The leaves are basal, alternate, simple, entire, oblong with pointed apex and central nervation prominent in the lower page, of intense green colour above, green with bronzy shades below, 0,7-1,5 m long and 20-50 cm broad, and sheathing tubular foliar bases forming a pseudo-stem.
The inflorescence, on a 15-20 cm long robust peduncle covered by a thick down of sand colour, is a drooping terminal spike, up to about 1 m long, with red rachis markedly waved covered by a thick down, up to 1 cm long, of sand colour, as well as the 15-30 bracts, alternate, coriaceous, ovate-lanceolate, 6-15 cm long, decreasing progressively towards the apex of the inflorescence, enclosing yellow tubular flowers, about 3 cm long, with pedicel covered by thick and long golden down, opening in succession.
The flowers, with bilateral symmetry, are hermaphroditic, with three sepals, two of which merged and one free, and 3 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 1 cm long oblong drupes, blue when ripe, and 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 some weeks to some months, but usually and easily by division of the rhizomes in spring.
Species standing among the most characteristic of the genus due to the thick villosity covering the long-lasting inflorescence, in practically continuous flowering during the year, cultivable in humid tropical and subtropical climate regions, in full sun or slight shade, on soils rich of organic substance, acidic or neutral, draining, maintained almost constantly humid, but without stagnations. It adapts to the cultivation in capacious pots using an organic substratum particularly draining and aerated, therefore it can be sheltered in greenhouses, verandas or very luminous winter gardens, where the climate doesn’t allow the permanence in open air during the winter months, with high levels of ambient humidity and high temperatures, ideal 24-26 °C, with lowest values not under the 15 °C. The waterings must be regular and abundant in summer, allowing 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 preferably done with slow-release balanced products with addition of microelements.
Synonyms: Bihai vellerigera (Poepp.) Kuntze (1891).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza