The family Heliconiaceae contains a single genus, Heliconia, with distribution in the Neotropical region and in Pacific islands from the island of Sulawesi (Indonesia) east to Samoa. The genus contains between 200 and 250 species (about 180 so-far described). Additionally, there are at least that many forms or cultivars.
Colloquial names for Heliconia are (English) Heliconia, and lobster claw; (Spanish) barco de caridad, platanillo, plátano bravo, plátano cimarrón, plátano de flor, and tanay; (French) balisier, bananier marron, plantano cimarron, and plantano sylvestre. The names "bird of paradise" and (Spanish) "ave de paraíso" do NOT apply to Heliconia (see below).
In the past, Heliconia was placed variously in the Musaceae (bananas and relatives) or in Strelitziaceae ("birds of paradise" and relatives). During the time it was in Strelitziaceae (which family now includes Phenakospermum, Ravenala, and Strelitzia only), the vernacular name "bird of paradise," which is used for Strelitzia species, became applied erroneously to Heliconia species. The same thing happened in Spanish: "ave de paraíso," which is a vernacular name for members of Strelitzia, became misapplied to members of Heliconia.
Flower bracts of some species impound water, and the flowers emerge through the water; at least one of these species does not depend only upon rainfall, but pumps water into the bracts. Flower bracts of some species are too small to impound water. Flower spikes of yet other species are pendent, so bracts cannot impound water.
In the Neotropical region, hummingbirds are said to be pollinators, with birds as dispersers of seeds. Bats are said to be pollinators in the Pacific region. However, this observer (JHF) is unconvinced that insect visitors (including bees) to the flowers in the Neotropical region play no role in pollination. Insects eat the leaves. Aquatic insects and other invertebrates inhabit the phytotelmata provided by bracts.
This site is maintained by Howard Frank, Professor Emeritus, Entomology & Nematology Department, University of Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org).