Heliconias in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica there are more than 35 native species of heliconias, but you also find many exotic hybrids in plantations and gardens. World wide there are about 200 – 250 species of native heliconias and most are from the American tropics.
The attractive flowers come in in all sorts of shapes and colors. They are not really flowers, but bracts or modified leaf-like structures called inflorescence. Each inflorescence can have as many as 50 flowers. Heliconias are actually herbs and closely related to bananas. They are easily propagated by rhizomes – the roots of the plants.
Many butterflies depend on heliconias because their caterpillars feed on their leaves. Other animals that live in heliconia flowers are spiders, ants, small frogs, insect larvae and even a species of tiny bats.
Heliconias in Costa Rica mostly flower in wet season and many birds eat the seeds and spread the seeds. The main pollinators of heliconias are hummingbirds, who co-evoluted with the plants. They are attracted by the bright red colors. To ensure that the flowers get well pollinated, heliconias release nectar only in small quantities and only from a few flowers at any given time, to force the hummingbirds to visit many plants in bloom for cross pollination.