An herbaceous tropical perennial, the hanging lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata) looks like a mundane green plant with large bananalike leaves. The presence of many tiny flowers, collectively displayed in a pendant cluster called an inflorescence, makes this species one of the most exotic and beautiful flowering plants in existence. Native to South America, gardeners throughout the humid tropics grow the hanging lobster claw in garden settings. The colourful inflorescences decorate the outdoor landscape and make breathtaking components of cut flower bouquets.
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The hanging lobster claw plant, also called the false bird of paradise, produces its colourful inflorescences during the warm, rainy and humid months of the year, typically between March and September. In tropical regions, they may be produced year-round. Emerging from the tips of the sturdy stems, just below the leaves, appear the waxy and succulent red, yellow and green bracts, which are modified leaves. The bracts look like lobster claws and progressively develop into a hanging chain as the inflorescence elongates. The bracts are referred to as the flowers; they do not posses floral organs, but do attract pollinators.
An individual hanging inflorescence that elongates from a plant stem lasts for four to six weeks. Dry soil, too much direct sun, wind or arid conditions shortens this duration. Each pendant chain of lobster claw-shaped bracts grows up to 3 feet long, displaying seven to 30 bracts. The longer the inflorescence, the older it is and longer it has endured on the plant. Degrading bracts attain browned edges and the once firm, plump flesh softens and bruises, showing brown-black spots.
The flowers of Heliconia rostrata are tiny, tubular and yellow in colour. They emerge singularly from the base of each clawlike bract in the inflorescence. The oldest bracts are located at the top of the hanging inflorescence and reveal the flowers first and lower bracts bloom in successive progression. The banana-shaped flower opens and provides nectar only for one day. Hummingbirds and bats visit the bloom to eat nectar and facilitate pollination. If pollination occurs, the flower becomes a seeded purple fruit later. An unpollinated blossom withers, dries up and browns. Its falls away but the colourful bract persists.
Cut Flower Duration
Hanging lobster claw stems with an attached pendant inflorescence make long-lasting cut flowers. Small-sized inflorescences, those having seven to 10 bracts, last around seven to 14 days in a vase. Larger inflorescences last much longer, 14 to 21 days. The inflorescences, with bracts and occasional exerted flowers, must not be placed or stored where temperatures drop below 12.8 degrees Celsius. Cut stems of hanging lobster claw last longest when submerged and soaked for 10 minutes in lukewarm water every three days. Change the vase water daily. Cut off the bottom 1 inch of stem daily or every few days to remove any browning, mushy ends. A fresh stem cut into firm, green tissues allows vase water to again flow upward into the bracts.
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