Tuesday, July 8, 2008


THE BOAT-SHAPED flowers or the Heliconia are brick red with ends of lemon red and streaks of green. They hang glowing, as if lit by inner lamps, in strings of twin rows, alternately arranged on ruddy zig zag stalks, against a backdrop of dark green foliage.
Growing up to a height of ten to fifteen feet, the Heliconia plant looks like an overgrown canna. The oblong banana- like leaves, have characteristic long stalks. The plant is shallow-rooted and is grown from rhizomes, from which culms and festoons of flowers shoot out in a matter of months. The rhizome goes on multiplying and enlarging into a wide clump, holding 20-30 flowering shoots in two to three years. This tropical plant is native to the West Indies, Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala.
Said to have come from Peru to India, it is cultivated in gardens all over the sub-continent, and thrives on the plains of Sri Lanka and South India. Stray plants from the planters' gardens can be seen growing wild on the sunny sand banks in the Ouchterlony Valley of Gudalur in the Nilgiris.
Ample sunshine, well-drained soil and copious watering are all that the plant requires.
The plant is named after Mount Helicon in Greece. It is also known as wild plantain, Singapore banana, Chinese cracker and firebird.
The pendant flowers that seem to be on fire stay fresh for 20-25 days. New blooms continue to appear in succession, providing a round-the-year feeling of festivity.

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