Taxonomy, Identification and Ecology of the Heliconiaceae. Draft#2

This discussion topic submitted by Gary Donnermeyer ( on 4/21/98.

Some of the most colorful, fascinating angiosperms of the neotropics belong to the Order Zingiberales. These include the Heliconiaceae (heliconias), Zingiberaceae (gingers), Musaceae (bananas), and Strelitziaceae (birds-of-paradise). This presentation will distinguish between these important tropical families but concentrate on the identification and ecology of the Genus Heliconia. We will review basic botanical terms as we explore floral characteristics used to identify members of this colorful genus.
Hopefully we will have several species available for hands on practice. If not, we will be encountering these striking plants at various times throughout our trip. In addition to discovering how to identify Heliconias, students will learn habitat preference, their role in tropical succession, and interesting information on hummingbird pollination.

Outline Draft.

I. Introduction to the Heliconiaceae and related families.

A. Description and distinguishing characteristics.

1. Heliconiaceae (heliconias)
2. Musaceae (bananas)
3. Strelitziaceae (birds-of -paradise)
4. Zingiberaceae (gingers)

II. Identification of Heliconias.

A. Shoot growth habits

1. Musoid
2. Cannoid
3. Zingiberoid

B. Inflorescence characteristics

1. Erect
2. Pendent

C. Flower and bract characteristics

1. Cheek, keel, tip, rachis
2. Petals, sepals, perianth, ovary, fruit

III. Ecology of Heliconias.

A. Habitat preference

1. wet lowlands
2. forest streams
3. middle-elevation rain and cloud forest habitats

B. Role in succession.

1. Secondary growth
2. Light gaps
3. Understory growth

C. Pollination

1. hummingbirds
a. Hermit hummingbird/Heliconia interactions
b. Nonhermit interactions

2. Self- pollination
3. Hybridization


Berry, F. and W. John Kress. 1991. HELICONIA an Identification Guide. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. 334pp

Linhardt, Y.B. 1973. Ecological and behavioral determinants of pollen dispersal in hummingbird-pollinated Heliconia. Am.nat. 107:511-23.

McDade, L.A. 1983. Long-tailed hermit hummingbird visits to inflorescence color morphs of Heliconia irrasa (Heliconiaceae). Condor 85: 360-364.

Stiles, F. G. 1975. Ecology, flowering phenology, and hummingbird pollination of some Costa
Rican Heliconia species. Ecology 56:285-301.

Stiles, F.G. 1983. Pages 249-251. In Daniel H. Janzen ed. Costa Rican Natural History. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

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