Carla BlackHoliday with heliconias and hospitality in Colombia

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.

Colombians appreciate their heliconias

Colombians appreciate their heliconias

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.

My husband, Angel Rodriguez, chats about road construction

My husband, Angel Rodriguez, chats about road construction

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.

Me with Heliconia gigantea

Me with Heliconia gigantea

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.

Heliconia regalis cv 'Eleesa'

Heliconia regalis cv ‘Eleesa’

Heliconia oleosa

Heliconia oleosa

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.

The biggest of all, Heliconia titanum

The biggest of all, Heliconia titanum

More than heliconias capture my imagination in Colombia. The sights, flavors and warm people keep me going back for more.

Embera baskets in the Choco bioregion

Embera baskets in the Choco bioregion

7 multi modal transportation

Multi modal transportation

7 seven meters of rain per year near Buenaventura on the Pacific coast keeps the water flowing

Seven meters of rain per year near Buenaventura on the Pacific coast keeps the water flowing

The guide arrives on a backcountry bus

The guide arrives on a backcountry bus

The hostel hostess packed lunches for us Angel enjoying

Angel enjoying the packed lunch from the hostel hostess

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Carla Black

About Carla Black

I have lived and gardened in Panama in the Western Highlands near Volcán, Chiriquí for 20 years. My favorite plants are Heliconias, especially our native Panamanian species. There's nothing better than heading into the backcountry to see them in habitat. I currently serve as president of the Heliconia Society International.

11 thoughts on “Holiday with heliconias and hospitality in Colombia

  1. Wow, how fabulous to see those photos and share your experiences. Heliconia porn indeed. I’ve never seen heliconias like these – especially love H. regalis ‘Eleesa’. More please!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Helen. It takes only a comment like yours to keep me going on and on about my favorite plants! More to come, for sure.

  3. Beautiful, I’m wondering if the oil in the H Oleosa helps the inflorescence remain bright and fresh for longer when compared to other heliconias?, also do you know of anyone who has H Titanum in their gardens?

    • Harsha, that’s an interesting question – I will have to do a vase test on H. oleosa. My very first flower has appeared on a plant grown from seed collected in 2012, and I’m not sure I want to cut it…

      About H. titanum, any plants in cultivation are young ones, from seeds collected in 2011 (in my case) or 2012 when the Heliconia Society International took a tour from Cali to Medellin. My plants are still babies at 4m tall; I’m hoping for flowers within eight years of planting seeds.

      • Carla please don’t cut the the H. Oleosa inflorescence, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I spoke of its longevity. I was more interested in knowing if it would last longer on the plant if the ambient humidity were to be much lower (like in the dry tropics in west/central India) given the oiliness of the Oleosa.

        About the H.Titanum, 8 years!, I was hoping they would be able to flower in about 3 years time if they were started from seed.

        • Harsha, very good, the flower is not cut yet! Longevity on the plant is an interesting topic that I have not made notes on. We are in the height of rainy season now, but your comments inspire me to make notes on flower duration on the plant, especially once dry season arrives. In your environment, first the species would have to adapt to low humidity, then flower observations come next. Some species do much better in dry conditions than others.

          The 8-year estimate for H. titanum is due solely to its enormous size. A 2-3 meter heliconia will, indeed, bloom within three years of sprouting from seed. But a 10 meter plant is something else!

          • Thanks Carla, We have a wet and dry season here as well. Our rainy season is wet and humid but short (~3-4 months) but our dry season is very long and dry. I have started Heliconia Longissima, Heliconia Carmelae and Heliconia Pogonantha from seed hoping they would be able to adapt better if started from seed rather than rhizome. I have had Heliconia Rostrata (started from a rhizome) for about 10 years and they flower very reliably in our conditions and the inflorescence lasts about 6 weeks in the dry season. I hope you make notes on the longevity on the plant and publish them.

  4. Hello
    Have just stumbled into Helconias Extra Sexy in Singapore. Are the small green bulb like things that drop from the bracts true flowers? Do they grow or just drop and die?

    Trying to figure out where to get a couple of these.


  5. Dear Brent,

    You are an astute observer. The green things are indeed the true flowers, which drop and die. If the flower were pollinated, fruits and seeds would follow, but hummingbirds are the primary (only?) pollinators of heliconias, so they rarely set seed in Singapore.

    To grow your very own heliconia plant, the best bet is to get a rhizome division or a plant that’s already grown from a rhizome. There are lots of heliconia fans in Singapore who can help you find what you’re looking for. If you use Facebook, join the group Planet Heliconia-Ginger and ask for nursery recommendations or for a trade from one of their gardens. Or enjoy making the rounds to the good nurseries in Singapore, photo in hand.

    Happy hunting!

    • Thank you so much for your rapid reply. Unfortunately, I was only visiting and live in Houston, Tx and Ft Myers, Fl. So I need to find a source a bit closer.

      Thank you again,

  6. Brent,

    Well, I did wonder if you’d be in Singapore long enough to grow a big heliconia to flowering. Guess not.

    There are a handful of heliconia species you can grow in Ft. Myers; I think Houston is both too hot and too cold for a fun growing experience.

    My advice is the same, however. Visit good nurseries (your neighbor Top Tropicals is one of the best in the world for unusual plants) and ask gardeners what’s worked for them. Growing from seeds is possible, though a longer process.

    The exact cultivar you mentioned is not registered, though ‘Sexy Pink’ and ‘Sexy Scarlet’ are, so if you have a photo people will know what you’re looking for.

    Good growing,

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