Fauna: Polinator and Heliconia

Best Tropical Flowering Plants

So from a holistic perspective it makes sense to have flowers. The question is then obviously which flowers are endemic to our tropical climate (Excessive rain and sun) and which flowers have which uses. The more uses-cases a flower has, the better. Thats core permaculture philosophy.

One uses-case was, is the flower edible – can humans eat it? Is it medicinal? Does it attract special insects or birds? If yes how does this fauna interact with its environment? Depending on the flower color it will attract different fauna. Also depending on the scent of each flower this will also be attracting different fauna.

According to literature white flowers which have no scent are less attractive to overall fauna. We know in the case of the soursop tropical fruit flower that because of the flower being white and having no scent we would get only about 10% pollination naturally if we do not pollinate the flower manually or research for fauna which may help such as the endemic Melipona (stingless honey bees endemic to South America)…

Is it medicinal? Does it attract special insects or birds? If yes how does this fauna interact with its environment? Depending on the flower color it will attract different fauna. Also depending on the scent of each flower this will also be attracting different fauna. According to literature white flowers which have no scent are less attractive to overall fauna. We know in the case of the soursop tropical fruit flower that because of the flower being white and having no scent we would get only about 10% pollination naturally if we do not pollinate the flower manually or research for fauna which may help such as the endemic melipona (stingless honey bees endemic to South America)…

Interestingly many flowers or shrubs we knew from Europe in dwarf size grow really tall in the tropical region of Ecuador. Makes sense, being endemic to the tropical climate 🙂 Logically any life will thrive in its natural habitat.

So a general recommendation before choosing flowers you may want to have or plant in your garden is to research about the endemic flowers in your environment (Your region, your surroundings). (1) Research about your climate or in the USA your USDA Hardiness Zones (11 separate planting zones exist). (2) Plant seeds or divide existing plants and replanting the cutting. (3) Take care of your flowering plants.

Speaking of our biggest challenge at the PermaTree farm here in Ecuador was to get the seeds… Mission Impossible. Lots of local people like to focus on exotic flowers and trees here. Exotic in this case meaning non-tropical like for example Rose flowers and pine trees… Or the Eucaliptus tree which was introduced to Ecuador in the late 1800’s from the swamp regions of Australia. Nowadays its the dominant tree in the Loja and Sierra region of Ecuador and it can be invasive, taking over large tracts of land. It grows back like a weed from the same stump and seeds itself very easily. Eucalyptus leaves are highly acidic; damaging soils around their base for years after the tree is gone. They also have long shallow roots that suck up all the water surrounding the tree. So back to the seeds, we where able to find a few heliconias within the farm and a few neighboring farms but comparing to the Orchids very little people care about the Heliconias.

Now the below list is according to our own priorities and likings but from a holistic approach:

Heliconia (Heliconia spp.)

Heliconia
Heliconia

Heliconias are attractive tropical plants with banana-like leaves and beautiful, long lasting inflorescences composed of showy bracts which contain the true flowers. There is only one genus in this family (Heliconia), and between 200 and 250 species, native mostly to the Americas, but a few species are found in the South Pacific. They range from 0.5 to nearly 4.5 meters tall depending on the species. They also come in brilliant colors that last all year long; pink, red, yellow, green, white and orange. Now it is quite a popular trend among people that grow Heliconias to cut them and use them in a vase as decoration. If you choose to do this, remember to check their water level daily. Also you may need to cut their stems every two or three days, just to ensure effective water uptake.  Heliconias are an important food source for forest hummingbirds, especially the hermits (Phathornithinae), some of which – such as the rufous-breasted hermit (Glaucis hirsuta) – also use the plant for nesting. Although Heliconia are almost exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds, some bat pollination has been found to occur. Hummingbirds are the main pollinators of heliconia flowers in many locations. The concurrent diversification of hummingbird-pollinated taxa in the order Zingiberales and the hummingbird family (Trochilidae: Phaethorninae) starting 18 million years ago supports the idea that these radiations have influenced one another through evolutionary time. Specific species of Heliconia were found to have specific hummingbird pollinators. These hummingbirds can be organized into two different groups: hermits and non-hermits. Hermits are the subfamily Phaethornithinae, consisting of the genera Anopetia, Eutoxeres, Glaucis, Phaethornis, Ramphodon, and Threnetes. Non-hermits are a catch-all group of other hummingbirds that often visit heliconias, comprising several clades (McGuire 2008). Hermits are generally traplining foragers; that is, individuals visit a repeated circuit of high-reward flowers instead of holding fixed territories Non-hermits are territorial over their Heliconia clumps, causing greater self-pollination. Hermits tend to have long curved bills while non-hermits tend to possess short straight bills, a morphological difference that likely spurred the divergence of these groups in the Miocene era. Characteristics of Heliconia flowers that select for either hermit or non-hermit pollinator specificity are degree of self-compatibility, flowering phenology, nectar production, color, and shape of flower. The hummingbird itself will choose the plants its feeds from on the basis of its beak shape, its perch on the plant, and its territory choice. Hummingbird visits to the Heliconia flower do not affect its production of nectar. This may account for the flowers not having a consistent amount of nectar produced from flower to flower. Different Heliconia species have different flowering seasons. This suggests that the species compete for pollinators. Many species of Heliconia, even the newly colonized species, are visited by many different pollinators.

Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)

Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)
Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)

This flower is called bird of paradise flower, because of a resemblance of its flowers to birds-of-paradise. Propagation: They are pollinated by sunbirds, which use the spathe as a perch when visiting the flowers. The weight of the bird when standing on the spathe opens it to release the pollen onto the bird’s feet, which is then deposited on the next flower it visits. Strelitzia lack natural insect pollinators; in areas without sunbirds, plants in this genus generally need hand pollination in order to successfully set seed. By using birds rather than smaller insects to do the pollinating it means as the plant ages and gets bigger rather than the plant producing ever increasing numbers of the same sized flowers, as you find in many other houseplants, what you’ll notice is the blooms themselves tend to also get larger and larger. The flowers attract bees, which are important members of any garden. Sunbirds are known to drink the nectar out of the flowers. Propagation Very mature Bird of Paradise plants will produce offsets which can be cut free and potted up, although this can be difficult. Bird of Paradise seeds with a tuff of orange hair. A more convenient method is to try and grow new plants from seeds. Like the flowers in which they are created, they are quite something with their largish seeds that have a tuff of orange hair. Pull off the hair, pot up in soil and place in a warm place. Germination is often erratic and unreliable but you can increase your chances by nicking the outer seed coat a tiny bit. This will allow water to move deep into the seed to trigger the germination.

Hibiscus

Red Hibiscus
Red Hibiscus

The name of this flower is derived from the Greek name (hibiskos). A tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is known for its red color, tart flavor, and vitamin C content. Dried hibiscus is edible, and it is often a delicacy in Mexico. It can also be candied and used as a garnish, usually for desserts. Hibiscus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some lepidopteran species, including Chionodes hibiscella, Hypercompe hambletoni, the nutmeg moth, and the turnip moth. Although some types of hibiscus are hardy in northern climates, the most commonly grown are natives of tropical Asia (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). Glossy, dark green leaves shine behind 6-inch flowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, coral, pink, blue-purple, and white. To keep hibiscus blooming, provide high light. Several hours of direct sun per day is best. Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet. Hibiscus flowers on new wood, so don’t prune or you will lose flower buds. To keep the plant more compact and attractive, prune it back in late winter. At the same time, root-prune and repot it in fresh soil. Hibiscus will shed its leaves when conditions change, but will quickly regenerate leaves on old stems. Plumeria species may be propagated easily by cutting leafless stem tips.

Plumeria (Plumeria sp.)

Plumeria rubra White
Plumeria rubra White

This flower is named after French botanist Charles Plumier, who explored New World tropics. The Plumeria is a flowering plant, most species are shrubs or small trees. The species variously are indigenous to Mexico, Central America, Hawaii and the Caribbean, and as far south as Brazil. Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers yield no nectar, however, and simply trick their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar. Insects or human pollination can help create new varieties of plumeria. Plumeria trees from cross pollinated seeds may show characteristics of the mother tree or their flowers might just have a totally new look. Plumeria do best in full sun with at least a half day’s sun exposure to bloom properly.

Bromelia

Bromelia
Bromelia in tree branch

Some Bromelia grow on the ground, but most species are epiphytes living in trees. As often the leaves of Bromeliads wrap around their stems they may form small pools of rainwater. Some species can hold several gallons of water inaccessible to fishes. These tiny little pools provide safe conditions for aquatic fauna such as tadpoles of frogs and larvae of insects. Other critters include snails, beetles, mosquito larvae, etc. When they die, their bodies decay and function as fertilizers to the host plants. As Bromeliads are often colorful, they’re becoming more and more popular as ornamental plants. The most economically significant plant in the family Bromeliaceae is the pineapple. The Ananas comosus is a tropical plant with an edible multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries, also called pineapple.

Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia and Datura selections)

Angel's trumpet
Angel’s trumpet

Brugmansia selections offer trumpet-shape white, pink, peach, or yellow blooms that dangle downward. In a warm climate, angel’s trumpet can quickly grow several feet in just one season. Every part of the angel trumpet is highly poisonous, including the leaves, flowers, seeds and roots. All contain the toxic alkaloids scopolamine, atropine and hyoscyamine, which are widely synthesized into modern medicinal compounds but are deadly poisonous if used outside a doctor’s supervision. And if the plant has a fair amount of sun, it will produce blooms all summer long. Blooms are fragrant at night when its pollinators are active. Many Datura selections offer trumpet-shape, upward-facing flowers. Outdoors, grow both types in moist, well-drained soil in bright, indirect light. The plants are heavy feeders, so fertilize them regularly in spring and summer with a general-purpose fertilizer. Reduce water and fertilizer during fall and winter months. Beware: All parts are poisonous. The Angels trumpet is a plant we do see a lot in all of South America. During our exploration we have seen it in Samaipata, Bolivia as well as in Medellin, Colombia and its all over Ecuador. Angel trumpets attract many skipper moths, bees, and the scent even draws in butterflies.

Bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea spp.)

Bougainvilleas
Bougainvilleas

Are the warriors of the tropical flower group. They are strong and it seems like the harsher the conditions the more they flourish. This is why they can be seen growing wild in many places. Bougainvillea can be a variety of colors including red, pink, yellow, orange and lilac. Bougainvillea is actually a vine with very thick branches and they make beautiful decoration for inside the home and even on balconies. Bougainvillea plants grow a lot in the urban and villages of the local people in South Amazonas region of Ecuador. Although bougainvillea flowers contain both male and female components, they are not self-fertile, and need cross-pollination from other bougainvillea plants to produce seeds. The flower’s nectar is kept in a structure called a nectary, which is a swollen area at the base of the tubular flower. Colorful bougainvillea flower do attract Birds and Butterflies too. Generally speaking white, pink, purple, red, yellow and orange flowers attract the most butterflies.

Flowering maple (Abutilon selections)

Flowering maple
Flowering maple

Named because of their delicate leaf shape, are native to tropical regions of the world. Their bell-shape flowers, in yellow, orange, pink, or red, open wide and dangle slightly from slim stems. Some types have variegated foliage. Abutilons, nicknamed parlor maples, are easy to grow and bloom all spring and summer. Grow them in medium to bright light. Keep the soil extremely moist but avoid letting the plant stand in water. The Butterflies and hummingbirds do love the nectar of the Abutilons so there is definitely a great use case for this flower.

Orchids (Orchidaceae)

Orchid
Orchid

In the Amazon region more than 25,000 species have been described, most of which being Epiphytes. Orchids have many different shapes and some have exuberant colors, while others are green. Ecuador has 4,032 classified species with an additional 400 species in the process of being classified. Of the 4,032 species, 1,714 are endemic to Ecuador. A consistent climate gives orchids an ideal environment to grow, and these striking flowers are found in three regions of Ecuador (1) the mountain range (home to 66% of Ecuador’s orchids) (2) Amazon basin (3) and the coast. Some popular orchid species include Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda and Oncidium. Orchids can be considered a little high maintenance as there are specific watering, fertilizing and sunlight guidelines, and these guidelines tend to be species specific.  Orchids are highly commercial. Alone Ecuador exports more than 8000 varieties of orchids! Its crazy and from a holistic point of view does not really make sense because Orchid belong to their specific endemic region. And most likely a sold orchid in Europe will spent the rest of its days in a apartment or a building and not in a natural habitat. This is why Orchids should be watered every 5-12 days, anything over this can actually kill your orchid. At PermaTree we have found Orchids all over the farm bust mostly in the forest jungle part which is wilder and and more humid because of all the vegetation. Orchids that offer nectar or mimic food can attract a wide variety of food-seeking pollinators — bees, wasps, flies, ants and so on. But sexual displays are only attractive to the males of a single species — a flower that looks like a female wasp is only going to attract male wasps, not other insects.

Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)

Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)
Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)

The plant produces orange, apricot or white flowers in clusters and the hairy flowers a resemble lion’s ears, hence the name (lion colored). The flowers produce nectar which attracts birds, bees and butterflies. The fruits are 2 mm nutlets. All the plant parts have a strong mint smell similar to other Lamiaceae species. At PermaTree we can see daily how the Hummingbirds visit the Klip Dagga orange flowers to get some fresh nectar. Klip Dagga flowers thrive in our tropical humid climate but especially in microclimates underneath roofs where its less humid and the soil is drier. They also tent to grow after the rainy season when its less humid. So this is something to keep in mind. We got seeds from a field in the region of Vilcabamba near Loja in Ecuador.

Flowers that attract birds

From a holistic and practical approach we want to know what plants with flowers attract which birds or insects to increase the diversity on site. The birds are mostly attracted to the seeds or and the nectar or the flower as source of energy. Below you find a good overview of what hues attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies and Bees. Of course those are not endemic for tropical climate but it gives you a fair idea on how you can design your surroundings.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *