False Bird of Paradise - Heliconia


Heliconia psittacorum

Top Tips

  • Allow the top few inches of the soil to dry out in between waters, reducing this further in the winter.
  • It's always better to under-water, than over-do it with Heliconia.
  • Provide a bright, indirect location away from the summer sun.
  • Supplement every two to four weeks using a general plant fertiliser, depending on the season.
  • Repot every year or two using a well-draining potting mix - Houseplant Compost is best. This is a good time to propagate basal offshoots (rhizomes) that develop around the base.
  • For specimens that surpass over 50cm in height, reduce the amount of waters and surrounding temperature to around 15°C (59°F) during the winter, to help entice flowers in the spring. Read 'How to Promote Annual Blooms' towards the middle of this article for more information.

• Water - ๐Ÿ”ธ๐Ÿ”ธ

During spring and summer, allow the top few inches of the soil to dry out in between irrigations, while reducing this further to replicate its dormancy period over the 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 diseases to both the rhizomes and its thick roots.


• Humidity - ๐Ÿ”ธ๐Ÿ”ธ๐Ÿ”ธ

They need continual misting to prevent browning leaf tips and an absence of potential flowers; create a humidity tray to maintain a steady level of humidity around the plant. Poor air circulation and high humidity will cause white powdery mildew to form on the leaves and cubbyholes of the stem, and if this occurs, move the plant to a bright location and either wash or remove the affected leaves.


• Location & Light - ๐Ÿ”ธ๐Ÿ”ธ

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 spot to increase its light-capturing efficiency.


• Fertilisation - ๐Ÿ”ธ๐Ÿ”ธ

During the growing period, fertilise fortnightly using either houseplant feed or a half-strength Ericaceous plant fertiliser, reducing this further in the winter. Over-supplementation will lead to the burning of roots, which usually results in yellowing leaves and inefficient growth.



Common Issues with Heliconia

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.

Transplant shock is a big issue when it comes to repotting; give the plant a good soak 24hrs before the action and never tinker with the roots, unless it has been affected by root rot. Typical signs of transplant shock are largely similar to under-watering - wilting, yellowing leaves and stunted growth. For more information about addressing this issue, please click on this link and scroll down to the 'Transplant Shock' section.

Curling leaves with crispy brown edges symbolise too little water and possibly too much sunlight. Forgetfulness, too much light or a much needed repot are the usual causes. As Heliconia tend to have extensive root systems, consider a transplant.

Pest damage can also cause issues down the line. Spider mite and mealybugs tend to be the usual inhabitants; check the leaves' undersides and along the leaf's central archway (midrib) for possible colonies. Spider mite are minute, almost transparent critters that roam around the leaf faces in search of chlorophyll, whereas mealybugs are white and are quite noticeable after a while. Both have an 'HQ' for their colonies; you must destroy it to reduce the overall population as this is where the eggs will be. Click on this link for more information.

Root rot is a common issue; typical symptoms include rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth and stem collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect its root systems. 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.

A lack of flowers could be due to an array of different issues that include irregular watering habits, too little light and not enough fertilisation. It'll take many years for a Heliconia to reach maturity, and because of this, blooms may take up to six years to form. Cold water shouldn't be used during the flowering period (summer) as sudden temperature changes can shock the plant, preventing further blooms. Improper growing conditions could also cause problems; avoid locations that are both too dark and too bright, and always provide a good level of humidity. Finely mist the foliage twice a week while keeping the flowers dry to avoid an attack from botrytis petal blight or powdery mildew.

A lack of flowers is caused by a insufficient dormancy period, served in the winter months. Locations that offer near-similar temperatures all year round won't allow the plant to go dormant, resulting in poor spring growth. To achieve, situate in a location that dips to around 12°C  (54°F) with fewer waters. Allow the majority of the compost to dry out and provide a humidity tray while the radiators are operating.




How to Promote Annual Flower

Mature specimens (three years +) will eventually bloom during spring to summer if its previous dormancy period has been served well in winter. As ukhouseplants has been challenged many times on this subject, we've created an acronym to help you through this process; SHORT. The combination of persistent droughts, cooler temperatures and long nights during winter will all contribute to the flowering process that'll take place in the following summer. Repotting isn't mandatory, and instead might hurt the chances because of transplant shock. The following steps must only be taken from late autumn to early spring to provide the best chances of flowers.


Sunlight

Provide a brightly lit location with a few hours of sunlight during the cooler months. Never situate a Heliconia in a shady location that's difficult to read a newspaper, as this will only hurt the chances of a bloom. Dust and mist the foliage from time to time whilst the heaters are on to counteract browning leaf-tips.

Hydration

Reduce waters so that the soil stays almost dry for a couple of days to reduce the chance of root rot and replicate its dormancy period. Either check the weight of the pot or place a finger in the compost to regulate the soil moisture.

Occasional Feeds

One or two feeds during this period using Houseplant Fertiliser is all that is needed to supplement Heliconia, as too nutritious soil could reduce the chance of a bloom.

Reduce Everything

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

Temperature

Reduce the temperature by around 5โ„ƒ or place in a room which is within 15โ„ƒ - 18โ„ƒ  (59 - 65โ„‰).  As most houseplants are sensitive to temperature change, it can't be empathised how important this step is to replicate their dormancy period. If all of the steps are fulfilled, a mature Heliconia could produce beautiful influences in late spring to summer.




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 'helikแน“nios' that can be translated to 'high' - in reference to the tall-growing nature of the genus. This genus originates from tropical America but has been recently naturalised in Florida, Thailand and the Gambia.


Temperature

15°C - 24°C   (59° - 75°F).
H1b - can be grown outdoors in summer in a sheltered location, but is fine to remain indoors. If you decide to bring this houseplant outdoors, do not allow it to endure more than an hour of direct sunlight a day as this will burn the leaves. Regularly keep an eye out for pests and potential cold temperatures. Flower loss may occur if temperatures dip below 12°C.


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

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 & rhizome division. Bottom-heat must be provided when germinating the seeds. Place them in tepid water for around 24hrs before placing them an inch into Seed & Cuttings Compost.

Rhizome Division - Separating the plants into their own pot will not only expand the plant collection, but it will also prolong the process of becoming pot bound in months to come. The best time to divide is during the repotting period in spring or summer; avoid transplantation out of these seasons or when the plant is flowering as both could significantly hurt the plant. Gently tease away some of the soil, separating the plants and their root systems. Situate them in a moist, well-draining potting mix, such as Houseplant Compost and avoid direct sunlight and prolonged droughts. Although this method is quite easy, be mindful of transplant shock and do not perform this method if the plant is displaying signs of stress. Always moisten the soil 24hrs before repotting or division to avoid angering the root systems.


Flowers

Despite their readiness to flower in the wild, it'll take up to three years for Heliconia to bloom 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 

Repot every year using Houseplant Compost and a larger pot. This is an excellent time to check the roots' condition, as well as rhizome division - have a look at the image below to see what one looks like. As Heliconia are prone to root rot, have a look around the bottom half of the root ball, for any brown and mushy signs. If this is the case, remove the affected areas with clean utensils and ease off with the irritations. Click on this link to learn about how to perform the perfect transplant. 

Read More - Repotting Your Heliconia


Here is a rhizomatous growth that'll develop into its own stem in due course.
Diseases & Pests

Typical diseases associated with this genus are root or rhizome rot, leaf-spot disease & powdery mildew. Keep an eye out for spider mite, whitefly, scale, mealybugs & thrips. For more information on how to address any of these issues, click on this link.  Identifying Common Houseplant Pests & Diseases


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.


Where To Buy

Online Stores.

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