Heliconiaceae Vines

First published in A student's text-book of botany 2: 561, 562. 1895 (1895)
This family is accepted


Every, J.L.R. (2009). Neotropical Heliconiaceae.


Large perennial herbs (up to 10m) with creeping, sympodial rhizomes and branches terminating in aerial shoots; renewal branches arising near base of aerial shoot ; pseudostems formed by overlapping tubular leaf sheaths, distinct internodes sometimes present. Leaves alternate , distichous , entire (though sometimes torn due to wind damage), eligulate, with long open sheath , simple , petiole often long, sometimes indistinct or lacking, midrib prominent , venation pinnate with parallel-arching lateral veins which fuse to form a margin. Inflorescence terminal , indeterminate, scapiflorous or not, erect or pendent, flattened thyrse with dense monochasial cymes (cincinni) each subtended by spirally or distichously arranged, large, brightly coloured, boat-shaped, stiff, laterally-flattened, often coriaceous , spatheous bracts. Flowers zygomorphic , bisexual , in two whorls of three, composed of 6 petaloid tepals, outer 5 connate , inner one +/- free , often reflexed and forming a lower lip, subtended by ridged bracteoles; fertile stamens 5, distinct, filaments basally adnate to perianth , outer 6th stamen staminodial, scale-like inserted at base of floral tube opposite free , median tepal , anthers basifixed; ovary inferior, syncarpous, carpels 3, 3-6 locular, style 1, filiform (thread-like), stigma 1, capitate (pin-like), ovule 1 per locule , septal nectaries present. Fruit a drupe , blue, pericarp thin, endocarp thick and stony, outer layer fleshy , borne on a stout, elongated pedicel . Seeds 3, grey, brown or black, hard, exarilate, with copious starchy and oily endosperm .

Distribution in the Neotropics
  • Throughout the Neotropics.
  • Shaded moist forests.
  • Open disturbed habitats.
  • Up to 2,000 m.
  • Extensive, conspicuous stands or as individuals.
  • Often pioneer species.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
  • Rhizomatous, perennialherb.
  • Leaves alternating and distichously arranged.
  • Prominentmidrib from which parallel, faintly sigmoid, secondary veins arise and loop towards the margin to merge into a marginalvein.
  • Terminalinflorescence, a flattened thyrse with dense monochasial cymes.
  • Brightly coloured (red, orange, or yellow), spatheous bracts.
  • Petaloid tepals in two whorls, one reflexed.
  • Five fertile stamens plus one minute staminode.
  • Inferior ovary.
  • Seeds 3.
Key differences from similar families
  • One ovule per locule [vs. many in Musaceae and Strelitziaceae].
  • Bisexual flowers [vs. unisexual flowers in Musaceae].
  • 5 fertile stamens [vs. 1 fertile stamen in Marantaceae, Costaceae, Cannaceae and Zingiberaceae].
General Description
Number of genera
  • One: Heliconia L. (225 species in total) a few species in Asia.
  • Native.
General notes
  • Hummingbird pollinated.
  • Staminode tightens the slit in the perigone tube so the plant can hold more nectar and withstand damage from visiting birds.
  • Extensive, conspicuous stands or as individuals.
  • Often pioneer species.
Notes on delimitation
  • Previously included in the Musaceae but now widely accepted as a distinct monogeneric family of the commelinoid clade in the order Zingiberales (APG 2, 2003).
  • Molecular and morphological evidence suggest that Heliconiaceae is monophyletic in a clade with the other 'bananas' i.e. Musaceae, Lowiaceae and Strelitziaceae (Kress et al. 2001).
  • In the pantropical order Zingiberales alongside the gingers i.e. Cannaceae, Costaceae, Marantaceae and Zingiberaceae.
Important literature

Andersson, L. 1998. Heliconiaceae. In: Kubitzki, K. (ed.). The Families and Genera of Vascular plants vol. 4, pp. 226-30. Springer-Verlag, New York.

Andersson, L. 1999. Heliconiaceae. In: Steyermark, J. A., Berry, P. E., Yatskievych, K. & Holst, B. K. (eds). Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana. Vol. 5, pp 583-90. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis.

APG 2. 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141: 399-436.

Berry, F. & Kress, W. J. 1991. Heliconia. An identification guide. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.

Dahlgren, R. M. T., Clifford & H. T., Yeo, P. F. 1985. The Families of the Monocotyledons: Structure, Evolution and Taxonomy. pp. 356-358. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Kress, W.J. 1990. The phylogeny and classification of the Zingiberales. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 77(4): 698-721.

Kress, W. J., Prince, L. M., Hahn, W. J. & Zimmer, E. A. 2001. Unravelling the evolutionary radiation of the families of the Zingiberales using morphological and molecular evidence. Systematic Biology 50:6 pp. 926-944.

Maas, P. J. M. & Westra, L. Y. Th. 2005. Neotropical Plant Families. 3rd ed. pp. 99-101. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell.

Seberg, O. 2007. Heliconiaceae. In: V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham & O. Seberg (eds). Flowering plant families of the world, p. 370. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Stevens, P. F. 2008. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9 onwards. http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/.

Stevenson, D. W. & Stevenson, J. W. 2004. Heliconiaceae. In: Smith, N., Mori, S. A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D. W. and Heald, S. V. (eds). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. pp. 442-443. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Watson, L. & Dallwitz, M. J.. (1992 onwards). The Families of Flowering Plants: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version: 14th December 2000. http://delta-intkey.com



  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Neotropikey

    • Milliken, W., Klitgard, B. and Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0