Heliconias are also called birds of paradise. These flowers have been part of my childhood, as were bamboo and many fruit trees—especially guavas, mangoes, macopa, karamay and kamias, aratiles (which my father insisted should be datiles) and even granada or pomegranate. Though I remember large pots of roses in the flowerbox, the only ornamentals that were in our backyard were heliconias. But they were at the far end of the lot, beyond the small pond guarded by the bamboo clump, just after the muddy dump where old milk cans lay rusting.
Those flowers fascinated me, though my mother did not seem to think much of them. To her, they were simply “wild flowers”. I yearned for those wild flowers but was too afraid to walk on those rusty cans that lay beneath the mud. We seemed to have consumed less milk as I grew up because the muddy patch eventually dried up and I was able to harvest those beautiful flowers.
I did not know much about these beautiful things—not even their “proper name” then. We only had 2 kinds: the bright orange ones with buds that look like spears and the ones that look like crab claws. I found out later that there are about 40 varieties and that they are related to bananas.
More than bananas and the way they look, I remember them as focal points in the living room where I grew up and occasionally, in our living room now. But what really makes them special is that they were my companions in a room I once rented. It was a memorable time in my life and my father would send me off each week with a bunch because he knew how much I loved them. They came with a bottle of my mother’s binagoongan which needed no refrigeration. Having heliconias comforts me as they evoke childhood memories and flavors, too!
I recently learned that like me, other creatures find comfort in heliconias. “Water collects in the bracts of the straight stems, which provides a habitat for many species of tiny aquatic organisms. Many other animals depend on the heliconia as well. Hummingbirds and butterflies like to drink the sweet nectar from the heliconia’s flowers.” http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/kids/species-profiles/heliconia
If heliconias were people, I’d like to be with them—no, be like them: they’re flashy enough but not ostentatious, colorful but not gaudy, they look tough but are nurturing and though they may not exude the fragrance of roses or lilies, they offer refuge and sustain life!
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