Heliconia (S/F) / (S/F-T/G)

Heliconia collinsiana. Image by Dave’s Garden user xyris.

Heliconia (from the Greek heliknios) is a genus of about 194 species of flowering plants in the family Heliconiaceae which are native to the American tropics and Pacific islands westward to Indonesia. Many of these species are found in the rainforests and tropical wet forests of these regions. Heliconia is variously known as the lobster-claw, the wild plantain, or the false bird-of-paradise; it is usually just called the heliconia. Most species are listed as either Vulnerable or Data Deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Description

Heliconia can range in height from 0.5 m (1.5 ft) to 4.5 m (15 ft) depending on the species, with simple leaves ranging in size from six inches to ten feet. The ones depicted in Jurassic Park: The Game appear to be on the smaller end of the scale, though it is also possible that they were not fully grown. The flowers are small and poke out of larger waxy bracts, which can be red, orange, or yellow; the ones portrayed in the game are yellow. They flower during the wet season, and grow blue-purple fruits.

Some close visual matches for the heliconia in the game are Heliconia clinophila and Heliconia talamancana, which are native to Costa Rica. It may also be Heliconia aurantiaca, though this species is more of an orange hue.

According to The Evolution of Claire, there were Heliconia collinsiana on Isla Nublar as of March 2004. These heliconias are normally a reddish-purple color, and do not closely resemble the variety seen in the game. They grow between six and eight feet tall with leaves similar to banana plants.

Growth

Heliconias are fairly fast-growing plants, with some variability based on species.

Sexual Dimorphism

Heliconias are monoecious, bearing both male and female parts.

Habitat
Preferred Habitat

Heliconias grow in tropical regions, mostly in northern Central America; a few species are known from the West Pacific and the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. They need consistently moist environments with easily available water, so they often flourish in bogs and wetlands. Sunny or partly shady conditions are necessary for them to grow.

Isla Nublar
A pair of small heliconias in the primary Triceratops paddock

Most of the heliconia species are found in the tropical Americas and many inhabit wet forested regions. Some are known from Pacific islands, but apparently none are native to Isla Nublar, as it is stated to be artificially introduced. It is known to grow in the primary Triceratops paddock, where two of them are observed. They require lots of water and sunlight, warm temperatures, and rich soil, all of which are found in this area of Isla Nublar.

Jess Harding noticed two heliconias in the Triceratops paddock while visiting Jurassic Park and noted they looked like a healthier version of her mother’s bird-of-paradise. Gerry Harding explained that InGen “imported them from the mainland to brighten up the place,” suggesting that heliconias are not native to Isla Nublar and that the featured species is found in Costa Rica.

By 2004, the species Heliconia collinsiana had been introduced to Gyrosphere Valley at Jurassic World. It was well-established there by early March at the latest, and most likely earlier.

It is unknown if any heliconias remained on the island as of 2015, as none were seen; however, the island’s environment is ideal for their growth. In any case, the June 23, 2018 volcanic eruption of Mount Sibo likely destroyed most, if not all, of any remaining populations on the island.

Isla Sorna

While heliconias can be found on many Pacific islands, their absence from Isla Nublar implies that they would not be native to Isla Sorna either. There is no evidence of their presence there.

Other

Heliconias are found on the Costa Rican mainland. One of the native Costa Rican species was transplanted to Isla Nublar in the late 1980s or early 1990s to be used as a decorative plant, since no native heliconias existed on the island.

There are well over one hundred species of heliconias, most of which are native to Central America; there are a few found on western Pacific islands, as well as the Indonesian province of Maluku. In particular, the species Heliconia collinsiana is found from southern Mexico through Central America and some Caribbean islands.

Behavior and Ecology
Activity Patterns

Like many plants, the heliconia takes in carbon dioxide during the day which it uses in photosynthesis; it is less active at night.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Heliconias gain virtually all the sustenance they require from photosynthesis. Water and carbon dioxide are taken in by the plant, and light energy from the sun is utilized to create carbohydrates from these. Oxygen is produced as a waste product.

Social Behavior

While these plants may grow in groups, the extent to which they are influenced by one another is not fully known.

Reproduction

Heliconias flower repeatedly, and have evolved to be pollinated almost exclusively by hummingbirds. Some pollination is carried out by bats and insects. In most species, including Heliconia collinsiana, the flowers possess both male and female organs. Despite this, they generally do not fertilize themselves.

While H. collinsiana blooms in the late spring and early summer, different species of heliconias have different flowering seasons. This is probably to avoid competition for pollinators.

Communication

Many plant species use chemical signals to communicate. The specific signals used by heliconias are poorly studied. They use visual signals to communicate with other species; the shape and color of the flowers of various species have evolved over 18 million years to signal particular species of hummingbird, which visit the flowers for nectar and help to pollinate them.

Ecological Interactions

Heliconias are known for their upward-facing flowers, which collect water that small animals drink. Some insects will raise their larvae in water-filled bracts. Those with smaller amounts of water are chiefly inhabited by fly larvae and adult beetles, such as leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) which feed on the leaves’ inner surfaces. Bracts with larger amounts of water are host to aquatic mosquito larvae. Microorganisms in the water feed some of these insects, while others feed on the plant’s nectar, flowers, leaves, and bract tissue, or organic detritus caught up in the plant. The beetle tribe Hispini, which are members of the leaf beetles, are major predators of the heliconia and lay their eggs in the bracts and on the leaves. There are also wasps, such as the paper wasp Polistes erythrocephalus, which lay their eggs on heliconias.

They are pollinated mainly by hummingbirds, with each species of heliconia having a particular kind of hummingbird which pollinates it. Many of these hummingbirds belong to the subfamily Phaethornithinae, which are called hermits. Competition for pollinators is a major evolutionary drive for heliconias, and the reason that they flower at different times than each other. Many are specialized to attract hermits; the beak of the hermit is long and curved, so some heliconia flowers grow specifically to accommodate this. While other hummingbird species defend a set territory and feed on the flowers within it, hermits travel along a path that allows them to visit certain high-reward flowers rather than all of those within a specific area. The coevolutionary relationship between hummingbirds and the order Zingiberales, which includes heliconias, is about 18 million years old.

Bats are less common pollinators, though Heliconia solomonensis of the Solomon Islands is pollinated mainly by the macroglosine bat (Melonycteris woodfordi). This heliconia’s flowers open at night, when the bats are active. In South America, many small bats use heliconias for shelter. The Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba) makes nests in heliconia leaves, cutting the side veins of the leaf to make it fold like a tent. Here it can shelter from the weather and predators. Most of the animals that eat it are too heavy to live in the heliconia plant, so they weigh the leaves down and warn the bat before they can attack. Even better adapted is the neotropical disc-winged bat (Thyroptera tricolor), which has suction pads on its wings that allow it to cling to heliconia leaves. It roosts facing upward in the rolled leaves of young heliconias.

Heliconia collinsiana was grown in Gyrosphere Valley on Isla Nublar, where it would have existed alongside many species of herbivorous dinosaur. It is not known which, if any, fed upon it.

Cultural Significance
Symbolism

The heliconia’s name is believed to derive from the mountain Helikon, which in Greek mythology was the home of the Muses. Because of this, the heliconia often symbolizes youth and beauty, pride, and great returns, which are traits associated with these goddesses.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the flower of Heliconia bihai is the symbol of the People’s National Movement. Similarly, in the French Overseas Department of Martinique, it is the symbol of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais (Martinique Progressive Party).

In Captivity

Heliconias are valued for their attractive colors, and have specific care requirements. These are tropical plants and cannot withstand cold or dry climates, so they need to be kept indoors if they are grown outside their native range. The soil they are grown in must be humus-rich with easy access to water; they will tolerate some soil flooding but will quickly die during droughts. Large amounts of sunlight are necessary for it to flourish.

These are not common as indoor plants, and are mostly grown in the tropics as outdoor landscape ornamentals. Cultivars and hybrids are readily available and popular based on region. Among the most attractive is the parrot heliconia (Heliconia psittacorum), which has black, red, and green colors reminiscent of tropical parrots.

Science

Heliconias provide an excellent example of coevolution, a phenomenon in which multiple organisms influence one another over millions of years. In this case, it is a symbiotic relationship between flowering heliconias and the hummingbirds that pollinate them. The best example is the hermit hummingbird subfamily Phaethornithinae. These birds have long, curved beaks which are specialized to fit into certain heliconias. Some of the heliconia species are clearly meant to be pollinated by hermits, while other heliconia species have coevolved with non-hermit hummingbirds which have shorter, straighter beaks. Fossil evidence suggests that hermits split from the other hummingbirds in the Miocene epoch, and that they have evolved alongside the plants they pollinate for at least 18 million years. Evolutionary radiation events in the plants occur at the same time as similar events among hummingbirds, demonstrating the close relationship these species have with each other.

Politics

At least two political organizations (the People’s National Movement and Martinique Progressive Party) use the heliconia flower as their symbol. On a more personal level, heliconia cultivation may be subject to local regulations.

Resources

These flowering plants are often used decoratively. InGen has frequently planted heliconias on Isla Nublar to increase the visual appeal of animal habitats, such as the Triceratops paddock in the original Park and Gyrosphere Valley in Jurassic World. They are otherwise seen in gardens in warm regions, while in colder parts of the world they must be kept indoors to avoid the cold.

In addition to their visual appeal, heliconias can attract all manner of wildlife to an area, including hummingbirds, bats, and insects. This can increase the health of the local ecosystem.

Safety

There is currently no evidence that heliconias are poisonous to humans or otherwise hazardous, and pollen is carried by animals rather than wind so it is not a major allergen. This is a fairly safe plant to handle. Water-filled bracts may become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, so be mindful of how much water your heliconias gather.