Ecuador’s Colorful Heliconias

When you explore the rich jungles of Ecuador, you will likely discover that there are a number of bright and colorful flowers around every corner. More at home next to the bright bill of a toucan than in amongst the shrubbery of a forest, you may find yourself wanting to know more about these curious Heliconias.

Heliconias are a genus of flowers with many interesting and varied flower formations. In fact, there are just over 50 different types of Heliconia – each with a unique and intriguing flower formation. These plants are native to the tropical parts of the Americas, as well as the islands just west of Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean. Their bright colors and often waxy textures are not only beautiful but provide protection against birds, animals, insects and the elements.

Some of the more common names for a few of these flowers include the ‘lobster claw, the ‘wild plantain’ and the ‘false bird-of-paradise’. While the false bird-of-paradise closely resembles the bird-of-paradise flower otherwise known as the strelitzia, it should certainly not be confused with this South African flower since it does not even belong to the same flower family.

The leaves of a Heliconia plant may be between 15 and 300 centimeters long so there is a lot of variety from one plant to the next. The flowers are formed on long panicles which may stand up or droop. The flowers themselves are always made up of brightly colored waxy bracts which is the first thing that catches the eye. Inside these bracts you may find a number of small, true flowers which are protected by the hard outer-shell of the flower. While they may not be of the same family or even look the same, Heliconias are related to Canna, Strelitzias and bananas. These colorful flowers are not just pretty to look at but serve as an important food source for the dainty little humming bird as well as a nesting ground for the Rufous-brested Hermit.

Try keeping an eye out for both the birds and the flowers the next time you visit Ecuador!