Heliconia latispatha and other species in the genus Heliconia are herbs characterized by large leaves and showy bracts that contain inverted, single staminode flowers and drupaceous fruits (Berry and Kress 1991). The genus Heliconia was associated with the banana family (Musaceae) and bird-of-paradise family (Strelitziaceae), but is now in Heliconiaceae (Berry and Kress 1991). H. latispatha is characterized by having erect inflorescences with red, yellow, or orange bracts and a yellowish/greenish rachis (Stiles 1983). An additional identifying characteristic of H. latispatha is the large vertically oriented banana like leaves from a short central stem, also referred to as a musoid growth form (Berry and Kress 1991.) All Costa Rican Heliconia are pollinated by hummingbirds and H. latispatha drupaceous fruits are dispersed by birds and mammals (Stiles 1983). H. latispatha is native to tropical America from Mexico to northern South America (Whistler 2000). H. latispatha is the most sun loving member of the Heliconia and is found in exposed areas, like forested stream edge, tree fall gaps, shady second growth and along road/trail sides (Stiles 1983).
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Tropical America from Mexio to Northern South America and widely cultivated in gardens.
H. latispatha is a medium-sized Heliconia with shoots averaging 3-4m in height (Stiles 1983). The actual plant has an underground rhizome which connects multiple shoots and will spread 10-30cm before putting up a new shoot (Stiles 1983). Each shoot is composed of a pseudotrunk 0.5-1.5m in length and 20-35cm in width and is formed by imbricated petiol bases and leaves (Stiles 1983). When each shoot is about one year old it will produce its own erect inflorescence consisting of twelve to seventeen showy bracts (Stiles 1983). The bracts are very noticeable and are orange, red, and/or yellow with yellowish/greenish rachis and are the main visual signal to pollinators (Stiles 1983). H. latispatha exhibits musoid vegetative growth and is characterized by having large banana like leaves orientated vertically with long petioles coming from a short stem that is close to the ground (Berry and Kress 1991).
Erect inflorescences with up to 12 spirally arranged canoe-shaped orange-red bracts bearing single or pairs of flowers that are light green to yellow. Bracts contain water if not in very dry conditions. The inflorescence can last for several months. The inflorescences stick up above the foliage, which is musoid - growing from a short above ground stem, with long spirally arranged petioles and large leaf blades. Leaf bases are asymmetric. Fruits are pea-sized drupes that are initially green but ripen to purple-black.
Catalog Number: US 934705
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Verified from the card file of type specimens
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): H. F. A. von Eggers
Locality: El Recreo., Manabí, Ecuador, South America
- Isotype: Loesener, L. E. T. 1916. Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 54 (Beibl. 117): 8.
Heliconia latispatha is native to tropical America from Mexico to northern South America (Whistler 2000). In general, Heliconia can be found by forest streams, light gaps, and shady second growth areas (Stiles 1983). H. latispatha is the most heliophilous member of Heliconia found in Costa Rica and is commonly found in full sun areas, like along roadsides, with exposure to high temperatures and desiccation (Stiles 1983). In addition, H. latispatha is common along rivers where periodic flooding prevents large trees from establishing (Stiles 1983). In Costa Rica, H. latispatha can be found up to 1,110 m on the Pacific slope and up to 1,300 m on the Caribbean slope (Stiles 1983).
When the fruit is ripe it turns from green to blue black and the protective floral bract has either rotted or been pushed away and the fruit is exposed to dispersers (Stiles 1983). The mature fruit is a drupe containing one to three seeds and has a hard inner seed protecting layer (Berry and Kress 1991). The fruit’s outer layer is fleshy and attractive to bird and mammal dispersers (Berry and Kress 1991). Fruiting occurs in wet season or year round in aseasonal areas.
Herbivores: Hispine (Chrysomelidae) beetles mate and reproduce in rolled up leaves. Larvae eat rolled leaves (see Strong 1983).
Pollinators: Hummingbirds, occasionally by hermit hummingbirds whose beaks are sickle-shaped, like the flowers, but H. latispatha are primarily pollinated by non-hermit territorial species (see Stiles 1983).
Dispersers: Frugivorous understory birds.
Prefer open areas in forest, like large treefall gaps, river edges and landslides. Do well on forest edge, roadsides and gardens. Also occur in secondary forest if canopy is somewhat open.
Life History and Behavior
In aseasonal tropical areas, H. latispatha may flower and fruit all year. In more seasonal forest, bracts and flowers will only be seen during the wetter months.
H. latispatha blooms mainly in June to August during the beginning of the rainy season (in Central America) but inflorescences have been known to occur in any month on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica (Stiles 1983). H. latispatha produces yellow tubular flowers with the perianth averaging 40-45mm in length (Stiles 1983). Each flower secretes sucrose rich nectar that attracts hummingbirds which is the species pollinator (Stiles 1983). After pollination, each flower is protected by a membranaceous bract that covers the ripening fruit for 2-3 months while the fruit ripens (Stiles 1983). When the fruit is ripe it turns from green to blue black and the protective floral bract has either rotted or been pushed away and the fruit is exposed to dispersers (Stiles 1983). The mature fruit is a drupe containing one to three seeds and has a hard inner seed protecting layer (Berry and Kress 1991). The fruit’s outer layer is fleshy and attractive to bird and mammal dispersers (Berry and Kress 1991).
Asexual reproduction also occurs, forming clumps or small groves of plants via underground stems or stems just at the ground.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Heliconia latispatha
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Heliconia latispatha
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 15
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
H. latispatha benefits from moderate land transformation and is common.
H. latispatha does well in disturbed habitats, including roadsides and gardens.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
H. latispatha is used as an ornamental and for cut flowers.
Heliconia latispatha is a plant species native to southern Mexico (Tabasco, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche), Central America and northern South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru) and naturalized in Florida and Jamaica. It is an herb up to 4 m tall, with leaves resembling those of bananas. Inflorescence is erect, up to 45 cm long, with red or orange bracts subtending green, yellow or orange flowers.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Native to Latin America, introduced to Florida, where sometimes persisting and occasionally spreading somewhat after cultivation (FNA, 5/98 draft).
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