For the last 20 years I’ve loved tramping Panamanian forests, looking for heliconias and marveling at the incredible diversity of humid tropical forests. Recently it’s become possible to get to know Colombian jungles, too.
The security situation is improving and it’s easier with each visit to get to remote towns and forest reserves. Peering into patches of natural habitat along the way, it takes all day to get 100 km down the road.
Colombian heliconias are famously pendent and red – pioneering taxonomists would roll their eyes at yet another new species just around the corner from the last new one. In four trips with my husband, Angel Rodriguez, and our friend from Brisbane, Bruce Dunstan, we have tracked down dozens of known species, and have come across many new ones. Very few are not red pendents.
Some plants are drop-dead gorgeous, like this Heliconia regalis with hairs up to 14mm. In brilliant contrast, Heliconia oleosa is so greasy that it has been studied for its oil content – those bracts are as slippery as they look.
Not all heliconias are pretty enough to cut for the flower vase, though you won’t be surprised that I am thrilled to have a few seedlings of Heliconia rhodantha ready to plant out in the garden!
And not every heliconia would fit in a flower vase, even if you did want it in the house with you. Heliconia titanium is the tallest heliconia of all, sky scraping at 13 meters. The inflorescence alone can reach 3 meters long.
More than heliconias capture my imagination in Colombia. The sights, flavors and warm people keep me going back for more.