Botanical Name: Heliconia psittacorum
Add a touch of the tropics to any sun-splashed room with this Brazilian beauty. Its huge, deeply veined green leaves grow on narrow vertical stalks. And those blooms are spectacular. Carried on tall, upright stems, bright orange and red bracts have yellow-to-orange flowers, often tipped with dark green.
Those exotic flowers remind me of Strelitzia reginae -- the bird-of-paradise plant. However, Heliconia is easier to please indoors. And you won't wait long for those magnificent flowers -- H. psittacorum blooms nearly year-round, beginning its first year.
Shed some light. You can expect an abundance of exotic flowers throughout spring and summer -- maybe even fall. If your Heliconia psittacorum plant doesn't bloom much, it's not getting enough light. Move it to a sunny window or sunroom... or scoot it outdoors when the weather is warm. It'll be fine as long as the temperature doesn't dip below 55°F/13°C.
Deadhead flowers. Cut off spent flower stems to encourage more blooms; cut them off at soil level.
Repot in spring every 2-3 years or when your plant outgrows its pot. Use a large, heavy container to prevent toppling -- this plant can get top-heavy. This is a good time to divide the plant, if you want.
Boost the humidity. Dry indoor air may cause dry, brown spots on leaves. If your home is dry in winter, use a cool-mist room humidifier.
Something bugging your plant? Watch for scale insects on the undersides of leaves, usually along the central rib. Scale insects suck plant juices, causing curled, deformed leaves. Raising the humidity around your plant in winter helps to prevent spider mites that love dry conditions. Look for their webbing between stems and leaves, a tell-tale sign of an invasion. Treat any pest infestation right away because these tiny critters cause damage and will likely move on to your other houseplants.
Many cultivars are available to choose from. 'Lady Di' is a long-time favorite with dramatic red bracts and creamy yellow flowers. Orange-red bracts with orange flowers make 'Andromeda' a popular selection. 'Choconiana' is a dependable bloomer with orange-red bracts and orange flowers. Variegated foliage and yellow-and-red bracts make 'Parakeet' an exciting new cultivar. 'Fuchsia' has large, pink bracts and creamy yellow flowers.
When buying a plant, look for the botanical name Heliconia psittacorum to be sure you're getting this plant. Many Heliconia species get quite large for indoor growing.
Height: 3-4 ft (.9-1.2 m) tall indoors; dwarf varieties are less than 2 ft (.6 m) tall
Light: Bright light to direct sun. Your Heliconia psittacorum will bloom most of the year when it gets plenty of light. You can move it to your porch or patio in summer to give it the sunlight it needs. Remember, it may be thirstier if it's kept outdoors.
Water: Keep soil evenly moist spring through fall. Keep soil slightly drier in winter, when growth has slowed -- but don't allow it to dry out. Heliconia doesn't like soggy potting medium, either. Young plants, especially, are prone to root rot if kept too wet. I highly recommend using a moisture meter rather than guess how much water is in the planter. Older Heliconias are more drought-tolerant.
Humidity: This South American native likes humid air. Aim to maintain 50-60% relative humidity around the plant. Indoor air can get extremely dry in winter and need a boost. I've found that a cool-mist portable humidifier is the easiest and most efficient way to raise humidity around tropical houseplants.
Temperature: Average to warm (65-80°F/18-27°C) year-round. Don't expose Heliconia psittacorum to temps below 55°F/13°C. It's tropical, not hardy.
Soil: Peat moss-based potting mix with added perlite and/or vermiculite to improve drainage. African violet potting mix is ideal.
Fertilizer: Feed monthly during the growing season (spring through fall) with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Do not feed in winter when growth is slower.
Propagation: Divide rhizomes in spring and pot separately. Don't bury them -- set rhizomes just below the soil. Any growth on the rhizome should remain above the soil level. Keep the potting medium lightly moist; over-watering will cause rhizomes to rot.