Plant of the Month – Heliconia psittacorum tedkippingensii

Plant of the Month – Heliconia psittacorum tedkippingensii

by Josh Schechtel

Heliconia psittacorum tedkippingensii
Family: Heliconiaceae

Who can resist a hardy, drought-tolerant, fragrant explosion of inflorescence? Record-breaking sales at Flora Grubb and Davis Dalbok’s Living Green showroom, both in San Francisco, and Richard Ward’s Dry Garden in Berkeley indicate that nobody can. The existence of a previously unknown heliconia, long used by Hawaiians as a mystical ingredient in the leis favored by Queen Liliuokalani, has been kept a closely-guarded secret from the outside world. The recent lava flow from Mount Kilauea that has threatened the little town of Pahoa, has also cast a shadow over the only sacred woodland in Puna where this astonishing plant is found.


Reminiscent of Mozart’s theft of the Allegri Miserere from the Sistine Chapel, Davis and Flora last year staged a nail-biting nighttime raid, braving vigilant cane toads and coqui frogs to rescue the Heliconia psittacorum tedkippingensii from its probable immolation and extinction, and bringing it to California for all to appreciate.

Not inexpensive at a few cents under $250 for a 4″ pot, HPTK, as it has become known, has been selling like hot cakes and certainly rewards the investor. Having evolved to glean its nutrition from the air and from sea-mist, it will grow with Hawaiian rapidity as a houseplant or outdoors in semi-shade or full sun. Good drainage and a cinder-based medium help, but nothing else seems necessary.

“Within four days of planting, it was barfing up flowers,” enthused Mr. Ward. Large, erect herbaceous plants can grow to 8 feet tall; deep purple 10-24″ leaves with pale copper variegation give rise to an impressive aggregation of inflorescence, deep red pendulous flowers with pale cream edges hanging from blue-black stems.

Fragrance is a powerful combination of Brugmansia and Sativa with a hint of daffodil, modulating to the unmistakable bouquet of Rafflesia as the flower wanes. Ingestion invokes similar symptoms to a Mulga strike. If you have wanted to add a bit of tropicalismo zonal denial to your garden, while making your friends jealous, try planting HPTK.

– April 1, 2015

This article was originally published in our April 2015 Bulletin.