False Bird of Paradise (Heliconia) Care

False bird of paradise (Heliconia) is a colorful and exotic plant with small flowers. Native to tropical Central and South America and the southwest Pacific, false bird of paradise is a species of perennial herb in the Heliconiaceae family.

Due to its similarity to the bird of paradise flowers, false bird of paradise is one of the most popular names for referring to this plant. False bird of paradise has other common names such as lobster-claws, toucan beak, and wild plantains as well.

False Bird of Paradise vs Bird of Paradise

You can easily mistake bird of paradise or Strelitzia with an actual bird. Native to South Africa, this gorgeous plant is a species of evergreen tropical herbaceous plant (unlike Heliconia). Bird of paradise is closely related to bananas, and some people confuse it with banana tree because of their similarity. This plant got the name bird of paradise for having charming, orange crane-like flowers.

Bird of paradise have split leaves that gives it its bird-like shape. Scientists believe that the purpose for the leaves tearing is to reduce drag in the wind; so that the plant can eliminate the risk of breaking in half by strong winds. In the following, we are going to describe Heliconia to understand the differences between these plants better.

Also, you may be interested in our article about mexican bird of paradise plant.

Heliconia Description

As the only genus in the monotypic family Heliconiaceae and family Musaceae (which includes bananas too), false bird of paradise is known by different names. The name Heliconia comes from Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece. This mountain in Greek mythology is the home of the Muses, the goddesses of the arts, literature, and science.

The name ‘Lobster Claw’ refers to the shape of false bird of paradise leaves, resembling the shape of a lobster’s claw. We also mentioned that the name false bird of paradise comes from its similarity to Strelitzia flowers. Let’s know the appearance of this plant better.

False Bird of Paradise Height

Depending on species, false bird of paradise height can vary from 2 feet (60 cm) to 20 feet (6 m) tall.

False Bird of Paradise Flower

The beautiful color of this plant’s flowers range in hues of red, orange, yellow and green. Interestingly, false bird of paradise flowers are in fact modified leaves called bracts. These bracts contain the real and tiny flowers inside them. False bird of paradise flower also produces an ample nectar that attracts pollinators, especially hummingbirds.

False Bird of Paradise Size

The simple leaves of this plants can grow between 6 inches to 10 feet (15 to 300 cm). They are long, oblong, and grow alternate or opposite to one another. If kept in a tropical location, the fronds will be evergreen. In cooler environments, they naturally die back in cold weather (50 °F or lower).

Depending on the position, each leaf has a different potential for absorbing sunlight when exposed to different degrees of sunlight. As we said, you cannot ignore how they look like lobster claws.

Is False Bird of Paradise Annual or Perennial

This plant is a species of perennial herb that blooms in spring and summer (if planted in the ground), and anytime if it is pot planted.

Now that you are quite familiar with this impressive plant, let’s see what its requirements are.

False Bird of Paradise Care Indoor

False bird of paradise care can be easier than you think. If you are planning to cultivate them as ornamentals, here are their vital needs:


It is best to let the top few inches of the soil dry before watering again in spring and summer. Remember that you need to reduce the amount of watering in winter. Heliconia can survive short droughts, but do not be tempted to test their strength. This may cause in the plant not blooming during the spring.

If you live in a dark location, do not moist the soil as frequently as the ones who live in brighter locations do. This is necessary to avoid root or rhizome rot. Other over-watering results are rotten or soft stem, and rapidly declining of the false bird of paradise plant health.

In false bird of paradise care, pay attention to yellow or brown-edged leaves, flower loss, and slowed growth as well. This signs tell you that you are under-watering the false bird of paradise, you are reporting it more than usual, or the plant is getting too mush sunlight.


False bird of paradise care requires rich soil (houseplant compost is perfect). This plant grows best in acid soil. If you use alkaline soil, occurring yellow leaves with green veins could be inevitable. For caring false bird of paradise indoor, we recommend a light and well-drained soil that stays consistently moist. For outdoors, the soil must not dry between irrigations during the spring and summer.


False bird of paradise loves bright, indirect light. Little light will lead to slowed growth and no flowers. If you cannot provide a place with full or partial sun for your majestic plant, dust its leaves frequently to increase the light-absorbing efficiency.


It is a good idea to prepare a humidity tray for maintaining a stable humidity level for your plant. This is due to the fact that Heliconia requires consistent misting to prevent browning leaf tips and absence of flowers.

But keep in mind that high humidity along with poor air circulation can increase the chance of white mildew to appear on the leaves and the stem. If this happened to your beautiful plant, move it to a bright location, and remove or cut the sick leaves.


During the Heliconia growing period, fertilize every two weeks using houseplant feed or half-strength Ericaceous plant fertilizers. Similar to watering, reduce fertilization in the winter. Over fertilizing results in the burning of roots, which lead in yellow leaves and sluggish growth.

False Bird of Paradise Heliconia Common Issues

Caring this heavenly plant definitely worth your while. But sometimes it can become an inconvenience as well. Here, we are going to cover the common issues with this plant and how to avoid them.

Invasive Growth

Sometimes growing this plant can be a ‘huge’ success. Invasive may be too strong for this charming plant; but it can take over a bed quickly and even move into your lawn. As a solution, consider root barriers, occasional cleaning of the bed, division, resetting of rhizomes, or planting the small forms of Heliconia that are easy to keep in bound.

Transplanting Shock

When it comes to transplanting Heliconia, the shock can be a serious issue after repotting it. To avoid this, let your false bird of paradise soak for 24 hours before repotting and do not play with the roots at all (unless you are dealing with a root rot). Transplant shock hints are similar to under-watering, which are wilting, yellow leaves and slow-paced growth.

Root Rot

As mentioned, root rot is a common issue in these plants. Main of this problem are quickly yellowing leaves, slow growth and stem collapse. To deal with root rot, take the plant from the soil out and check the root system. If it shows a yellow tinge, everything is fine. But if they seem brown and soft, you need to take action quickly.

Problems with Leaves

The most important issue with leaves include curled up leaves with brown edges. Such symptoms lets you know that the plant is getting too little water and probably too much light, or you are repotting it more than needed. Since false bird of paradise Heliconia has a sizeable root system, we suggest that you consider a transplant instead of constant repotting.

Pest Damage

Pest damage is probable issue among plants. For this plant, spider mite and mealy bugs could be your main problem. To see if these inhabitants have colonies on your plant, check the leaves’ undersides and along its central midrib. The tiny and almost clear spider mite move around the leaves to find chlorophyll. On the other hand, mealy bugs are white and you can easily notice them after some time. You need to destroy their colonies (that have the eggs inside) as soon as you notice them to reduce their population.

Lack of Flower

This unpleasant issue could be the result of different matters including irregular watering, too little light, and not enough fertilization. Because a false bird of paradise takes many years to be mature, its blooms may need up to six years to appear. During the flowering period (summer), you should not use cold water for irrigation. Sudden changes in temperature can shock your plant, and prevent it from blooming later.

Low quality growing conditions can create problems for your beautiful plant as well. So do not place it in too bright or too dark locations. Also, provide the proper humidity level by finely misting the leave twice a week. When misting, keep the flowers dry to reduce the chance of botrytis petal blight or powdery mildew attack your plant.

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