Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Heliconia psittacorum

I took this photo during my last hours in Puerto Rico. I was desperately hoping that my flight back to New York would be canceled -- I wasn't ready to leave, and there was a bit of snow there, anyway. Alas, flights were merely delayed. I was fearful that would be the case, so I spent my last bit of time in the tropics furiously snapping photos of plants.

I was pretty sure the plant below was a Heliconia, but it was not until I got back home (and at a computer) that I was able to pin down not just the species, but the cultivar, too. I'm fairly certain this plant is Heliconia psitticorum 'Lady Di.'

The common name for Heliconia psitticorum is parrot's beak, so named for the beak-like red bracts that are the showy part of the plant. Bracts, as I think I've mentioned before (note to self: make more tags for this blog), are modified leaves associated with the flower. More often than not, they are modified to aid in attracting pollinators. In this case, their red color is aiming to attract hummingbirds. The actual flower is nestled inside the interior set of yellow bracts.

There are around 150 species of Heliconia, and Heliconia is the sole genus in its family, Heliconiaceae. Heliconias were formerly members of the banana family but have since been deemed different enough from Musaceae to merit its own family name.

Heliconias are native to South America and the Pacific tropical islands. They are definitely 'go-to' tropicals which bloom all year round.

When I speculated about the origin of the genus name, I got a bit smug. I figured that the arrangement of bracts was probably helical, thus the name Heliconia. But when I looked it up, I found out I was dead wrong. The plant is named after Helicon, which was the mountain of muses in Greek mythology.

PS -- You may notice (upper right) that I have set up a twitter account. I am still fooling around with it, and am not sure I'll keep it up. But right now I am using it to give a brief 'real time' account of what's in bloom (or otherwise notable) in NYC. Feel free to 'follow' me if you are on twitter yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Twitter, aren't you the cleaver one!