Expanded Lobster Claw

Expanded Lobster Claw
Heliconia latispatha

Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison

Of all the thousands of tropical plants, Heliconia is one plant genus that many people visiting Panama recognize. Even determining species is not too difficult, in most cases! Heliconia latispatha is native and common from Mexico south through tropical South America. The relatively inconspicuous flowers emerge from gaudy, claw-shaped, reddish-orange floral bracts. The entire flower stalk can be 50 cm long! The flowers of the Expanded Lobster Claw plant are followed by smooth blue fruit. The leaves are large and banana-like.

Known by enthusiasts as “Expanded Lobster Claw,” Heliconia latispatha prefers partly shady, moist edges of tropical forests and roadsides bordering good forest. The large, unusual flowers of the Expanded Lobster Claw plant make long-lasting cut flowers in floral arrangements.

Heliconia quick facts:
• Native to the tropical Americas and Caribbean
• A disjunct group of six species from the Pacific islands (Samoa westward to Sulawesi)
• 200-225 species are generally recognized, with many more cultivars and varieties
• all New World species are pollinated by hummingbirds
• Pacific island species are pollinated by nectar-eating bats and honeyeaters (birds)
• Popular for tropical landscaping
• Used in floral arrangements because they are long-lasting
• Known in Panama as “Platanillo”
• Related to Bird-of-Paradise flowers
• More types of cultivars exist than actual number of wild species
• About 10 species can be found near the Canopy Family lodges.

For more information, please visit www.heliconia.org.