Heliconias are plants of great ornamental beauty due to their colors, strange geometric shapes and their banana tree shape. The heliconias are known throughout the world as exotic tropical plants, for their variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and long durability.
What is a Heliconia?
Heliconias are plants whose height varies from 1.2 to 1.9 meters, sometimes more. Their roots are strong and reach up to four meters, therefore, the heliconia is resistant to erosion.
As well as heliconias, birds of paradise, achiras, gingers, bilbos, and other plants known as platanillos are botanically grouped in the order Zingiberales.
The order Zingiberales is composed of eight families: Musaceae, Heliconeaceae, Strelitziaceae, Lowiaceae, Zingiberaceae, Cannaceae, Marantaceae and Costaceae.
Among these, the best known are the gingers and the birds of paradise (Betancur and Crees, 1993).
The family Heliconiaceae is represented only by the genus Heliconia and has about 250 species, of which 98% are distributed in Central and South America, and the Caribbean (Kress, 1994, cited by Maza and Builes, 2000).
Heliconias of Colombia
Of the more than 250 species of the genus Heliconia, 110 are distributed in the wild in Colombia, and 48 of them have been reported as endemic. Among these species, many have some degree of threat.
Most of the species are distributed in the Andean and Pacific regions, between sea level and 2400 m of altitude.
The regions of Colombia with the highest proportion of endemic Heliconias are the Andean with 75% and the Pacific with 20%.
Moreover, the regions with the highest concentration of species are the more humid regions, such as the western Andean slope (35%), the Atrato river valley (25%), the Magdalena river slopes (25%) and the eastern Andean region (25%) (Betancur and Kress, 1995, 1999).
Thus, Colombia is the largest center of Heliconias diversity in the world (Abalo and Morales, 1982).
Heliconia Flowers are Exported from Colombia
Heliconias are used worldwide on various occasions and special dates throughout the year.
The colorful heliconias we know are inflorescences. The real flower is white, small, and is inside. However, what is marketed is the inflorescence, even, the inner flower must be removed in post-production, otherwise it generates a bad smell in the plant.
Colombia is an exporter of heliconias with destinations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Aruba, Holland, and some Asian countries like Japan.
The market for Heliconias is very demanding. This is due to the special care that this type of flowers requires both in its production process and in the handling after it, and to the different attributes to which great importance is attributed by the trader and the final consumer (color, size, shape, quality, etc.)
Heliconias as a Tourist Attraction
Recently, ornamental flora and fauna such as Heliconias, orchids, butterflies, etc. is becoming a potential tourist attraction, especially in Colombia, a country of high biological diversity.
Nature tourism is a good option when you want to get to know these exotic plants in their natural habitat.
In Colombia, there are several places where you can find heliconias. Here I recomend you three places you can visit to see the exuberance of the heliconias.
Quindio Botanical Garden
This place is known for its great butterfly farm, but it is also an excellent destination to see the largest collections of palms and heliconias in Colombia. It also has an insect zoo and three sites for bird watching, among many other things.
The National Collection of Heliconias
The National Collection of Heliconias is located in the Quindio Botanical Garden. This collection has been made thanks to the support of Professor Gustavo Morales in terms of the supply of specimens and their curatorship.
The collection currently holds 45% of the 115 species estimated for Colombia, and its objective is to achieve 100% representation of this family.
The collection includes species of the family Heliconiaceae and the genus Heliconia. 13 of the species contained have some category of threat. In particular,H. abaloi, H. berryziana, H. foreroi, and H. oleosa are critically endangered (CR).
How the collection works
Field trips to different locations made by the scientific staff of the Quindio Botanical Garden are made to collect native heliconias. The scientists take the plants to the Quindio Botanical Garden, and other botanical gardens, for ex-situ conservation purposes.
The specimens are taken to their final place in the National Collection of Heliconias after treatment with a process of acclimatization and propagation. Once in the collection, they acquire an accession number and are monitored and managed agronomically.
Visiting the Collection
Visitors can enter the ecotourism service through the modality of reservation or scheduling.
Only a maximum of 15 people are allowed per group and they will have an exclusive guide who will give them a special tour, full of knowledge and new experiences.
Kids (3-12) ~9 USD – Adults ~15 USD
How to get there
The botanical garden is located at Av Centenario no 15-190 Km. 3 Via Valle Calárca, Colombia. It is 15.5 km from the city of Armenia, which translates to 25 minutes by car.
If you are on the coffee axis, the Quindio Botanical Garden is a destination you can add to your route.
The Botanical Garden of Quindio is an NGO. Today it needs your support to sustain itself, so visiting it is a good option.
Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve
The Tinamu is a Natural Reserve and Birdlodge, where up to 260 species of birds have been registered, distributed in 47 families, the most numerous families being flycatchers with 35 (Tyrannidae), tanagers with 21 (Thraupidae), queens with 16 (Parulidae) and hummingbirds with 16 (Trochilidae).
It is also home to +260 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and a great variety of plants and trees. Tinamu is a place that since 2014 offers a high level of service in bird watching toursim.
Heliconias of the Tinamu Reserve
In the Tinamú Birding Natural Reserve, there are 7 species of Heliconias and 3 other Zingiber species: Heliconia wagneriana, Heliconia latispatha, Heliconia rostrata, Heliconia stricta, Heliconia vellerigera, Calathea crotalifera, Zingiber spectabile, and Musa velutina.
There, besides the birds, you can walk in the forest and meet these beautiful specimens, as well as the birds that come to feed and pollinate these species. Two of them are the Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) and the Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy).
In this forest of heliconias, you can also find an incredible lek of Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus).
How to get here
Tinamú Birding is located in Caldas, 18 km from Manizales (30′), in the San Peregrino sector. It is immersed in the Coffee Cultural Landscape and a sub-Andean forest of 11 hectares, between 1,200 and 1,300 meters above sea level, with a warm climate of 25°C.
Visiting the Collection
You can make your reservation by following this link.
To learn more about the Tinamu I recommend you read our entry The Nicest Bird-lodge of Colombia: Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve.
Paraíso Andino Reserve
The Ecoglamping Reserva Paraíso Andino is a family project that highlights the restoration and conservation of a fragment of sub-Andean forest.
For more than 12 years, they have actively and passively restored the forest and, today they have an excellent infrastructure for ecotourism, such as bird watching, butterfly watching and ethnobotany. And it is very close to Bogotá!
Heliconias of the Paraíso Andino Reserve
The reserve has a collection of heliconias of approximately 60 species. There you can enjoy a guided walk through a trail that takes you through the entire collection.
It is the best option if you want to know these plants in their natural habitat, very close to Bogota. You will also be able to learn about native forest plants and medicinal plants, their uses and history.
How to get here
Paraíso Andino is located in La Vega Cundinamarca (Colombia) Km 12.5 via La Vega-Sasaima.
Visiting the Collection
The entrance to the reserve is by reservation.
- KRESS, W. JOHN, & BETANCUR, JULIO. (2009). UNA ESPECIE NUEVA DE HELICONIA (HELICONIACEAE) DEL CHOCÓ BIOGEOGRÁFICO COLOMBIANO. Caldasia, 31(1), 99-104. Retrieved January 04, 2021.
- Téllez Jaramillo P A (2018). Colección Nacional de Heliconias. Version 4.2. Jardín Botánico del Quindío. Occurrence dataset accessed via GBIF.org on 2021-01-04.
About the author
Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.