False Bird of Paradise - Heliconia


Heliconia psittacorum



Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Dormancy Care & Annual Blooms
  4. Common Issues
  5. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.

For queries or questions, comment in the section below or send us a message via this link!




Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Easy to Moderate
  • Provide a bright location with little to no direct sunlight. We'd recommend placing yours within two metres of a window, or in a semi-shaded conservatory. 
  • Allow the top third of the soil to dry out in between waters, reducing this further in the winter to avoid root rot. Remember, it's always better to under-water a Heliconia, rather than over-do it due to the thick rhizomatous roots that can retain moisture.
  • Fertilise every two to four weeks using a 'Houseplant' labelled feed, depending on the season.
  • Repot every year using a well-draining potting mix, for instance, a 'Houseplant' Compost. This is a good time to propagate basal offshoots (rhizomes) that develop around the base of the plant, too.
  • For specimens that surpass over 50cm in height, reduce the number of waters and surrounding temperature to around 15°C (59°F) during the winter, to help entice flowers in the spring. Scroll down to 'Dormancy Care & Annual Flowerstowards the middle of this article for more information!




Location & Light - 🔸🔸

Bright, indirect light is best for Heliconia, as too little light will result in slowed growth and an absence of flowers. Those grown in darker locations will need to be watered far less than those in brighter spots. Always dust the leaves if the specimen situated in a shady area to increase its light-capturing efficiency.


Water - 🔸🔸

During spring and summer, allow the top third of the soil to dry out in between irrigations while reducing this further to replicate its dormancy period in the autumn and winter. Although Heliconia are equipped to endure short-lived droughts, try not to test their strength as it'll inhibit the chance of a bloom during the spring. For those that live in darker locations, hydrate the soil far less often than with those grown in brighter places to counteract the chances of root rot. Under-watering symptoms include yellowing leaves, flower loss, browning leaf-edges and slowed growth; these issues are usually due to either a much-needed repot (see the 'Repotting' section towards the bottom of the article for more info), too much sunlight or forgetfulness. Over-watering symptoms include root or rhizome rot, a rotten or soft stem and rapidly declining health. Remove the root ball from the pot and inspect the roots for possible rot. Heliconias grow via rhizomes in the soil, so soggy soil or waterlogging soil will soon cause 


Humidity - 🔸🔸🔸

Moderate humidity accompanied by good air circulation is a must; finely mist the foliage once every ten days for those situated near a radiator. Placing the plant's base on a pebble tray will not only provide a stable level of humidity, but it'll also reward you with more reliable growth during the colder months when the heaters are operating.


Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Supplement with a houseplant-labelled fertiliser at monthly intervals for the development of better quality foliage. Whilst the specimen is in bloom, switch to a product high in potassium to prolong the duration of flowers - a good example of this would be a 'Flowering Plant' or Tomato-labelled Feed. Although a general plant fertiliser is acceptable, you'll run the risk of burning the roots if over-applied, especially with the combination of a 'ready-to-use' product and dry soil.



Dormancy Care & Annual Flowers

Provide a bright, and cool autumn and winter period around 15℃ (59℉) to reinforce its dormancy. Keep the roots pot-bound to add further stress onto the specimen, which in turn will significantly heighten the chance of flowering. Blooms will generally appear in the summer, during the active growth season. The following steps should be taken from early autumn until the end of winter. 


Sunlight & Location

Be sure to provide a bright location with little to no direct sunlight. Although the winter rays won't necessarily hurt the plant, be careful not to fall in the trap of sun-scorch and severe dehydration. Avoid deep shade and the use of artificial lighting at night or locations that boast temperatures higher than 18℃ (64℉).


Hydration

Reduce waters so that at least half of the soil becomes dry. It's essential to keep them on the drier side to life, as they'll think that hard times are ahead and therefore will need to pass its genes on to the next generation.


Occasional Feeds

During the autumn and winter, fertilisation should be performed at monthly intervals with a 'houseplant' feed. While the flowers are in development or in bloom, use a Tomato fertiliser to provide fortnightly nourishment of potassium.


Reduce Everything

This is to remind you that everything needs to be reduced - especially the temperature.


Temperature

This is the most significant step; reduce the temperature down by around 5℃ compared to the summertime or place in a room that's between 15º - 17℃ (59º - 62℉). You'll be at a significant disadvantage if the ambient temperature is kept constant throughout the year, as Heliconia will only respond in locations that have daily fluctuations of around 7℃. Never exceed the minimum temperature as it may lead to plant death or yellowed foliage at a bare minimum. If these steps are followed successfully, you could see a show of blooms in the following summer - but remember, dealing with nature may not always provide the results you'd relish.




Common Issues with Heliconia

Curled leaves and crispy brown edges are the result of too little water and over-exposure to the sun. Although Heliconia are a superb choice for plants in sunny locations, those that haven't acclimatised to the harsh rays will show signs of sun-scorch and environmental shock. Gradually increase the amount of light every few days, starting from an indirect location to a few hours of morning/evening sun over the course of a few weeks.
Prolonged exposure will significantly speed the process of dehydration, so consider transplantation into a bigger pot  (in any season)  to wrap the roots around moister soil.

Root rot is a common issue with specimens sat in too moist or waterlogged soil for long periods of time. Symptoms include rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth and stem collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect health below the soil line. If the roots sport a yellow tinge, you're good to go, but if they're brown and mushy, action must be taken immediately. More information about addressing root rot can be found on this link.

Pests could arise at any time, with infestations starting from the original nursery or via contamination in your home. With Heliconia, Spider Mites and Mealybugs tend to be the usual inhabitants, with the first being minute and almost transparent, roaming the leaves in search of chlorophyll and a site to hide its eggs. The latter, however, will stand out much more, with white cottony webs developing across the foliage and stems. Thoroughly check the plant's cubbyholes before giving it the all-clear, or click on the appropriate links to learn more about eradicating these issues.

Due to the genus' sensitivity to chemicals, Leaf Shine shouldn't be used to improve the appearance of the foliage, and instead should be cleaned using warm soapy water. Failure to do so may cause yellowed, mottled spots that cannot be undone.

A lack of blooms could be due to an array of different issues, including irregular watering habits, too little light and a lack of fertilisation. Heliconia will only flower once maturity is achieved, and as it'll take many years for it to reach adulthood, you'll have to wait a while for a development. 

Dust the leaves regularly. Although this isn't too much of an issue, a build-up of dust particles can clog up the plant's pores, causing lowered light capturing-efficiency. Wipe the topsides of the leaves down once a month to keep levels down and improve growing conditions.




Origins

Heliconia is part of the Zingiberales order that holds genera such as Musa (Banana palms), Strelitzia and Calathea that bare significant similarities in their rhizomatous and foliage structures. Heliconia was first classified in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, using the Greek word 'helikṓnios' to mean 'high', in reference to the tall-growing nature of the genus (over 2m, 6ft). This genus originates from tropical America but has been recently naturalised in Florida, Thailand and the Gambia.

The Distribution of Heliconia psittacorum.


Temperature

15° - 24°C   (59° - 75°F).
H1b (Hardiness Zone 12) - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 15℃  (59℉),  but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure any direct sunlight as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.


Spread

Up to 2m in height and 0.8m in width if repotted most years. The ultimate height will take between 5 - 10 years to achieve, but can live for up to twenty years in the right care.


Pruning & Maintenance

Remove yellowed or dying leaves and plant debris to encourage better growth and improve the all-round appearance. Pruning must be done with clean scissors or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases; remember to make clean incisions as too much damage can shock the plant.


Propagation

Via Seed & Basal Offset Division.

Offset Division (Pups) (Easy) - Separating the basal offsets into their own pot will not only expand your plant collection, but it'll also slow the process of becoming pot bound. The best time to divide is during the spring or summer, with the pup's height surpassing 10cm. Gently brush away some of the soil to gain better access to the pup's base, where its roots will be housed. While using a clean pair of secateurs or scissors, cut the cord with at least two root strands attached to its base. Set the pup in an appropriate-sized pot with adequate drainage and a houseplant-labelled compost. The ideal location would provide bright, indirect light and temperatures above 15℃  (59℉). Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between hydrations. After a month or two, you'll be able to treat it like a matured specimen by using the care tips above.


Flowers

Despite their readiness to flower in the wild, it'll take up to two years for Heliconia to produce spring flowers indoors. Its flowers largely resemble the Bird of Paradise Plant (Strelitzia) with a beak-like spathe at the base and a cluster of small flowers emerging from the centre. Most species within this genus will sport either red, orange, yellow or pink flowers and will zig-zag along the top of the flower shaft, lasting up to two months.


Repotting 

All species of Heliconia will develop large rhizomatous root systems that'll invade the pot within a year. With this in mind, transplant annually using a 'Houseplant' labelled compost and the next sized pot; this is an excellent time to check the roots' condition, as well as dividing basal offsets. Deformed plastic pots caused by the underground growths are standard and may not necessarily require a bigger pot. Click here for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via the following link to learn about repotting with root rot!

If you're still unsure of what to do, don't hesitate to send us an email or direct message on Instagram to get our expert advice on transplantation.



Here is a rhizomatous growth that'll develop into its own stem (pictured above) within the following few months.



Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, scale, thrips & vine weevils. Common diseases are root rot, leaf-spot diseases, powdery mildew & botrytis - click here to learn more about these issues.


Toxicity

This genus is classified as poisonous. If parts of the plants are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite may occur. Consumption of large quantities must be dealt with quickly - acquire medical assistance for further information.


Retail Locations

Online Stores are mostly likely to sell Heliconia; however, Morrison's may sell them from time to time in the spring and summer months. 



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