A Trio of Central American Beauties: Hot House Queens from the Tropics . . .

March 26th, 2013 § 3 comments

Heliconia vellerigera 'She Kong' ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com JPGNative to the tropical Americas, Heliconia vellerigera’s (cultivar pictured: H. vellerigera ‘She Kong’), yellow blossoms are accented by  fuzzy, red bracts that remind me of the glamorous, fluffy shrugs worn by Hollywood starlets. An important food-source for hummingbirds, the Heliconias require constant moisture, warmth, partial to full sunlight and rich soil.

Flower gardening in the Great White North is a seasonal affair. Unless you have your own greenhouse or access to a large-scale conservatory, there are few flowers to be enjoyed in New England during the months of winter and very early spring. For a hortimaniac, it’s hard to live life without flowers. Like many northern gardeners, I suffer from zone envy and I often spend my snowy evenings fantasizing about a heated glasshouse and dreaming of all the exotic beauties I’d invite to my housewarming party.

In the meantime, there’s always travel. And over the past few weeks, I’ve been meeting some of my favorite, hot house beauty queens up close and personal, in their natural, tropical habitat at the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue and Botanical Garden in Cahuita, Costa Rica (learn more about this special place in upcoming posts). Here are three of my favorite, hotties from the tropics; brilliantly colored plants I adore, and regularly visit in my dreams. But although they can be enjoyed outside during New England’s growing year, these tender lovelies must have a warm, moist  habitat year round. Large conservatories can grow large tropical plants without trouble, however most average, cold-climate homes can host only one or two. I can’t make a proper home for Heliconia or Etlingera , but the Crimson Passionflower Vine (Passiflora vitifolia), having long ago twined her way ’round my heart, will once again find a home at my front door this summer . . .

Pink Tulip Ginger (Nicolaia elatior) ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comjpg Native to Java, but cultivated throughout the tropics, Etlingera elatior or Nicolaia elatior (Pink Tulip Ginger) reminds me of the magical wands carried by good witches in fairytales. The torch gingers are large plants (up to 20′ tall) and require  ample space, moisture and sunlight.

Passiflora vitifolia (Crimson Passionflower Vine) ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Native to Central America and Northwestern South America, Passiflora vitifolia (Crimson Passionflower Vine) is a hummingbird favorite that blooms on and off throughout the growing year. A great choice for vertical garden spaces, this vine can grow 20′ or more and requires ample sun, moisture and a trellis, pergola or arbor for support. Northern gardeners can grow this beauty as a tender perennial in protected spaces, and bring her inside to a bright, warm, sunny room to overwinter. This may be the perfect tropical companion for tropical lovers in the great white north.

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§ 3 Responses to A Trio of Central American Beauties: Hot House Queens from the Tropics . . ."

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Oh My God! “She Kong” reminds me of something I’ve seen used a lot in large bouquets (and the name of which escapes me at the moment, of course) Oh wait – Bird of Paradise? Only it’s not fuzzy like this…
    Tulip Ginger is such a gorgeous shade of pink! Is she edible? I think I can just make a out a nice looking chunk of root just in behind?
    Love the Crimson Passion Flower! Other than being a little more delicate in appearance, does she have a similar profile to the regular purple/mauve ones we get up here?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Deb, That was a really good first guess for the Heliconia. The plant is commonly called “False Bird-of-Paradise” (Genus Strelitzia ) Because it looks so similar! This ginger does have some edible and possibly medicinal uses (Asian dish using seeds, I believe), though I believe it’s mainly grown as an ornamental (property dividing “hedge” use is common in Costa Rica). And as for the Passiflora, I found some very good information on the Monrovia website here. The flowers of Costa Rica were so gorgeous. I could go on and on and on. I was in heaven. ;) xo M

  • Michaela says:

    Just double checked on edible usage and my book on tropicals confirms that both the flower buds and ripe seed pods of Etlingera elatior have edible use in Asian dishes (flower buds cooked & raw in salads and ripe seed pods used in fish dishes).

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