How to Grow False Bird of Paradise (Heliconia) – Care Guide

So, you’re feeling a little urge to grow a plant with a bit of novelty, eh? Like the false bird of paradise?

Heliconia is closer to bananas than its commonly confused counterpart, the bird of paradise.

This plant is a very fast grower that can even be considered to be invasive by some gardeners.

However, if you want some amazing coverage, tropical blooms, and some stunning colors, then Heliconia will do just fine.

It’s not as popular as its counterpart, but a lot of the care for false bird of paradise is very much the same.

Let’s dive in and see what this plant’s all about!

Quick care guide

Plant type Perennial
Origin Central, South America
Scientific name Heliconia
Other names Lobster claw, false bird of paradise
Soil type Well-draining, fertile, moist, clay, sand, loam
Soil pH 5-7
Sunlight requirement Partial sun
Bloom season Spring, summer, fall
Colors Orange, white, pink, green, blue, red, yellow
Max height 3-15 feet
Max width 2-6 feet
Temperature 50-70F
Humidity High
Watering requirements Moderate during bloom season, very low during wintering
Fertilizer requirements High, often during summer
Days until germination 60 days
Days until bloom 180 days
Speed of growth Very fast
Hardiness zones 10, 11
Plant depth 6-8 inches
Plant spacing 2-3 feet
Propagation Rhizome division
Common pests Ants, birds, rats, aphids
Common diseases Rot, mold, fungus
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Average
Uses Decoration, color, landscaping

What’s a false bird of paradise?

This plant gets its name because of the striking similarities to the real bird of paradise.

False bird of paradise are also known as “Lobster Claws.

The plant is officially part of the Heliconia genera, which is part of the Zingiberales order. These plants are similar to banana palms, calathea, and strelitzia (bird of paradise).

The leaves, rhizomes, and stems are all nearly the same in appearance. Heliconia comes from tropical America and is now commonly sold in the US (mainly Florida) and overseas.

Some other common variants of false bird of paradise are heliconia choconiana, psittacorum, bihai, wagneria, characea, collinsiana, and rostrata.

People want to because of the unique difference and the novelty that this is NOT a bird of paradise.

False bird of paradise vs bird of paradise – What are the differences?

The two plants are so alike, which makes it no wonder that heliconia was once called the “false” plant.

There are no major differences other than the classification of the plant and the distribution.

Bird of paradise does well in zones 10-12, however, heliconia is primarily dominant in Florida- specifically the southwestern area. But it can grow throughout zones 10-13.

Both plants require similar sunlight, watering requirements, and propagation. They’re very similar in appearance also that the untrained eye won’t be able to tell the difference.

The flowers on this plant are colorful and thrive with rich soils. Heliconia does well with partial sun and well-draining soil. The occasional misting is well appreciated to avoid any drought.

This is not a cold or drought hardy plant. They grow very tall just like birds of paradise, or more closely, bananas!

How do you take care of a false bird of paradise?

False bird of paradise close up.
These “Lobster Claws” are strikingly similar to bird of paradise.

Caring for heliconia psittacorum is very similar to the “real” bird of paradise.

This plant follows similar watering, humidity, and fertilization techniques. If you’ve already owned and cared for a regular bird of paradise, then taking care of the “false” version should be very easy.

Here’s a high-level overview of the various care methods.

Watering requirements

Heliconia psittacorum is a rapid grower and will at least minimal waterings during the peak season.

Don’t be confused. The plant NEEDS plenty of water, but ONLY between specific intervals.

Let the soil go completely dry between watering sessions during spring and summer. Taper off even more towards fall. The plant is a drought hardy type so you don’t need to be worried about it not getting enough water.

But that doesn’t mean to let it go parched either. They can handle short drought periods, but nothing too extreme. If you want larger, beautiful blooms during the spring, you need to supply it with just the bare minimum of water.

This plant is not tolerant of drought nor cold.

Don’t overdo it. Use your finger (or a soil meter) to measure the top 3” of soil. When it goes dry, you know it’s time to water.

  • If you’re in a colder zone that has shorter days, you should adjust your watering regimen accordingly. Use less irrigation as needed.
  • If you’re in a warmer zone with longer and brighter days, you’ll need to water more often because it evaporates quicker.

Signs your heliconia needs water

If you’re worried about not giving it enough hydration, an easy way to check is to watch for the dehydration signs your plant will give you.

Some signs that your plant needs water are:

  • Yellowing leaves
  • Willing
  • Flower loss
  • Drooping
  • Stunted growth
  • Browning on the edges of the foliage

Signs you’re overwatering

On the contrary, there are also some signs that you should be familiar with to know that your plant’s receiving too much water:

  • Rotten stem
  • Rhizome damage
  • Root rot
  • Poor draining soil
  • Drooping foliage
  • Waterlogged soil
  • Damaged root system
  • Yellowing leaves

Adjust your watering regimen accordingly.


Heliconia prefers moderate temperatures that range from 60F to 75F. They can be planted outdoors in a partial shade location.

They also can do well indoors, but you’ll need to choose a location that provides ample sunlight, but not direct. This plant is sensitive to light and needs filtered sunlight for at least 6 hours a day.

Don’t let the temps drop below 54F, as this is when the cold shock can harm or even kill the false bird of paradise. If you live in a colder area, follow the process to overwinter birds of paradise.

They apply to heliconia in the same manner.

False birds of paradise do enter a dormancy period, so you need to let it winterize properly. If not, it’ll produce smaller or failed blooms next spring.

Plant food

False bird of paradise doesn’t need excessive fertilization.

You can supplement every other week with general-purpose houseplant food. Increase dosage during summer and spring. Reduce and taper off in fall. If you spot root damage or burning, this could be due to over-fertilization.

Yellow leaves or random growth are also signs that you may be using too much fertilizer. Reduce dosages by half to see if your plant improves. The change should be gradual.

They will appreciate general-purpose plant food. Us as directed at least 3 times per year.


Heliconia likes humid environments, so a constant drip system or mister would be ideal.

Or you can use a spray bottle if you have the time to give it a spritz every day.

Keep the moisture level high. If you notice any browning on the leaf edges, this could be due to low humidity. You can also use a humidity trap to create an artificial humidity zone around the foliage.

But remember that bumping up the humidity is a balancing act- too much and you’ll risk powdery mildew, which is a very common disease caused by poor air movement and excess humidity in the air. This brings us to our next point.

Air movement

It’s important to make sure that your false bird of paradise receives adequate air circulation.

This particular tropical plant needs plenty of moisture to do well, but this only adds to the possibility of introducing mildew and fungus. This can be eliminated with circulation.

You can use stakes to keep the foliage off the soil and separate from bunching, which will help stop it from becoming dense and a moisture trap.

Pruning will also remove any unnecessary leaves to help keep the plant neat and tidy. If you have a lot of these plants or a bad fungus problem, consider using air circulators to keep air movement positive.


False birds of paradise prefer plenty of indirect sunlight.

Too much light will burn the plant and reduce growth and overall plant vitality.

Too little light will make it grow slowly and may even cause your heliconia to not flower.

Depending on your local climate and hardiness zone, you should provide adequate amounts of partial sunlight to help the plant grow.


Pruning false birds of paradise is no different than the “real” one. Remove damaged leaves.

This will help encourage the plant to grow new, healthier ones.

Use clean pruners or shears that have been washed with rubbing alcohol and disinfected.

Cut cleanly. You can also remove any dead or dying leaves rather than letting them wilt. This will keep your plant neat and tidy.

Dusting the leaves

You should make sure you clean the leaves of the plant at least once a week, especially if you’re in a colder climate with fewer sunlight hours in the day.

The leaves will build up dust which will decrease the efficiency of photosynthesis.

Clean the leaves by using a wet sponge with a mild detergent (optional).

Be sure to test it on a single leaf first. This is to ensure you don’t damage the rest of your plant because of a strong detergent.


Heliconia flower year-round and come back each year.

They tend to stop flowering around the wintertime and will dieback or freeze if not prepared correctly. Some hardier variants will tolerate the cold and the rhizome will come back after the cold subsides. You can improve flowering by pruning and removing dead foliage.

Preparing it for winter also helps encourage proper growth next season. Warmer areas with mild winters may not need any preparation.


Heliconia propagation by rhizome division, which makes them easy to propagate.

Just cut the rhizome when you switch pots and you’ll divide it safely.

Here’s a video demonstrating the process:

You can give some to friends and neighbors if you have too many pieces. They keep their rhizomes near the soil surface, which makes it extremely easy to dig up.

Some could even use some additional planting depth for stem support. If your heliconia stems droop or lean on one side, you can use a stake or plant deeper next time.

These flowers are very tall and lean over if no support is provided due to their heavy flowers. Help them help you!

Other common FAQs about false bird of paradise

False bird of paradise flower close up shot.
Lobster claws? Yes.

Here are some other questions that are asked about heliconia.

You may find this useful if you’re new to caring for the plant.

Where to buy heliconia

This plant can be purchased online, but you should check your local hardiness zone to make sure it’ll grow first. It’s popular in southwest Florida, but can be grown in areas with warm winters and high humidity.

My heliconia leaves are curling

If you spot the foliage curling, this may be a sign of over-fertilizing, too much sun, or too much water. It could also be due to powdery mildew, which is a common fungus among “wet” plants.

Start by pruning off the curled leaves and checking them out.

Do you notice any fungus or powder? Or are they just yellow or brown?

Adjust your watering schedule or plant location if necessary. Try reducing everything- water, plant food, sunlight, etc. and see if that helps. If not, it could be a plant disease or pest.

Can it be grown indoors?

You can grow heliconia indoors in containers.

Just be careful about the watering schedule and plant food. Poor draining soil can lead to the buildup of nutrients or water, which will harm your plant or introduce root rot.

Use well-draining soil with plenty of drain holes.

You can supplement high quality, organic compost to help keep the soil from packing too tightly. Choose a spot that has partial sunlight in your house and monitor the plant.

Can you grow a false bird of paradise in pots?

Heliconia does fine in potting containers.

But it’s important to repot them annually using high-quality compost and soil and move them into a larger pot.

When you do this, you can also check for any plant diseases, rhizome damage, or other pest problems. The root ball should be clean without any brown or moist areas. This plant needs to be transplanted to larger containers as it grows.

Note that when grown in pots, everything you do should be closely monitored.

Since pots trap moisture, water, and other nutrients from fertilizers, you should watch all levels and make sure you’re doing it right.

Is it an annual or perennial?

Heliconia is a perennial just like its close cousin, the bird of paradise.

The plant enters a dormancy period in the winter and comes back in the spring.

However, this plant requires special care to keep temperatures chill enough so that it gets cold exposure, but not to the point where it freezes.

Since this plant doesn’t capture a large audience of growers as much as its counterpart, there’s less information online on properly overwintering false birds of paradise.

Are heliconia invasive?

Some people have regarded these plants as invasive species because of their rapid growth.

They can take over a garden as they grow horizontal as well as vertically very quickly. You can control by properly pruning and setting up root barriers to help keep the rhizomes in check.

But if you need coverage and like this plant, then, by all means, enjoy yourself. Who needs a lawn when you have wild bananas growing in your yard. Right.

Heliconia uses

This is a decorative plant that can be used for adding some gorgeous landscaping, color, or coverage. The flowers are exotic looking and stand out from other non-tropical plants.

They’re also relatively low maintenance and don’t need to be replanted year after year if properly cared for.

Since they can rapidly grow under the right conditions, they’re also excellent for privacy to some extent.

Further reading

Here are some additional sites you may find useful:

Now go grow some lobster claws!

Heliconia plant care.
You have everything you need to know- at least the basics.

You have all the basics you need to properly care for this plant.

Go out there and start gardening and enjoy the exotic flowers and rapid coverage heliconia offers.

Do you have any experience with this plant? Share your words of wisdom with other readers!

If you have any questions, post a comment below.

3 thoughts on “How to Grow False Bird of Paradise (Heliconia) – Care Guide”

  1. False Bird of Paradise does not do well outdoors in NW FL even fin a very mild winter. Best treated as an
    annual. Does very well during NW FL spring, summer & fall in a container & placed in indirect sun.

  2. My plant has flowered all summer, and is still producing healthy green leaves. It stopped flowering several weeks ago. Central Fl. Location, potted, under an umbrella to protect from the intense sun. Should I repot?

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