Quest for Heliconias in Costa Rica, Florida and Barbados
By Tammy Woodcock
The quest began 15th June, 1997 in Costa Rica. The mission — to see as many Heliconias as possible and particularly Heliconia chartacea `Sexy Pink’, which prior to the trip I had only drooled over in a book. Heliconias are large herbaceous perennials with usually banana-like leaves, with erect or pendent inflorescences of varying size and numbers of boat-shaped bracts in an array of colours.
The aims and objectives were to record plant associations, growing conditions in cultivation and in the wild, propagation techniques, their merits — if worthy of growing in a collection, collecting literature to assist with the writing of a systematics project and for improvement of the collection at Kew. Contacts for exchange of plant material were also sought.
Despite my Spanish being poor and the appalling road conditions, I managed to visit Costa Flores, who are said to be the largest producers of Heliconias as cut flowers. They had native Heliconias as well as many from around the globe, in a display garden. I was shown around plantations and the packaging depot, where I was overwhelmed by `Sexy Pink’ and other bright tropical blooms.
I also visited Braulio Carrillo National Park in the Central Valley. This consists of 110,000 acres of dense cloud and rainforest, receiving eight metres of rain a year. However, as time was short, I only saw a few necrotic Heliconia inflorescenses.
Lastly, was a visit to the Wilson Botanic Garden where I stayed for four days. It is close to the Panamanian border and was converted from a hillside coffee plantation by the Wilsons in 1963 and is surrounded by rolling mountains of rainforest. It was one of three Heliconia Society International (H.S.I.) sites that I visited, where they preserve Heliconia species.
The 27th of June came quickly — already time to hit Florida. I stayed at the Montgomery Foundation, adjacent to the Fairchild Tropical Garden and Research Centre. Fairchild is home to H.S.I and have a large collection which I spent a lot of time studying. I visited several nurseries specialising in Heliconias. Escaping from Heliconias, I made baby sausages by pollinating the night flowering Sausage Tree, Kigelia pinnata.
On the 4th of July the last leg of the journey was to Barbados, where I was met by Heliconiac Jeff Chandler, who took me to the University at Bridgetown where I was to stay. The first three days I attended a workshop co-ordinated by the B.G.C.I., on the Conservation of Botanic Gardens in the Caribbean. It brought together most Caribbean islands, Mexico and Colombia to formulate an action plan for conservation, sharing experiences and knowledge. I spent the remaining time studying Heliconias with Jeff at the University and at Andromeda Botanic Garden, another H.S.I. site. I also visited a private cut flower plantation concentrating on Caribbean species of Heliconia and was given a tour by the owner; it was interesting to compare with Costa Rica.
The tip was a great success as I learnt a great deal in a short time. I would like to thank all who assisted me on my trip and especially my sponsors — the Kew Guild, the Merlin Trust, Course 33, Bill and Jane Macalpine and my family.