One of my favorite flowers is the heliconia, particularly the hanging lobster claw heliconia (Heliconia rostrata). This tropical flower is one that I’d never seen until taking floral design classes at Longwood Gardens. Hanging lobster claw heliconia is one of those rare flowers that is so unique that once you see it, you’ll never forget it.
Helicoias are related to ginger, bird of paradise and bananas. There are lots of varieties of heliconia – some plants and flowers are small; others are large. Sometimes the flowers are upright while other times they hang. The one thing that’s true for all of the heliconias is that they are tropical plants and their flowers just scream the topics.
On a recent trip to Aruba, I found a hanging lobster claw heliconia in full bloom. While I’ve been calling the brightly colored blossom a flower, the truth is that it’s an inflorescence. The flower of the heliconia is small and insignificant; what catches your eye is the inflorescence. The inflorescence of this plants is over two feet long and hangs down among leaves that can reach up to 20 feet in height. This plant doesn’t have traditional stems. The only stems that exist are underground rhizomes; what emerges from the ground are long petioles which support elongated leaves.
I would love to grow this plant here in PA but without a greenhouse or a lot of room in my house, the plants are just too big to overwinter. There might be some enterprising gardener out there who’s figured out a way to grow hanging heliconia in the northeast – if so, I’d like to hear about it.
There are smaller heliconias that can more easily be over-wintered but the inflorescences of these plants are small and nothing like the hanging lobster claw heliconia. So I guess for now I’ll just enjoy these flowers (oops, I mean inflorescences) when I see them in a flower shop or if I see one while visiting a tropic locale.