Heliconias are the quintessential neo-tropical flowers. They are large, unusually-shaped and brightly coloured. The shape of the flowers is the result of an intricate relationship between the plant and the pollinator, usually hummingbirds.
In many Heliconias, tHe flower is shaped in such a way that only longbilled hummingbirds, often ‘hermits’ can reach the nectar. Since few species can reach the nectar, there is little competition and the pollinators are sure to find a good amount of nectar when they visit the flower. The hummingbirds therefore tend to visit flowers of the same species, and this increases the probability of pollination for the heliconias. However, to make sure that the hummingbirds visit enough flowers, not all flowers in the inflorescence contain nectar. Many are almost dry, while a few contain large amounts of nectar. Hummingbirds are thus obliged to visit a large number of flowers on the same inflorescence to get the nectar they need.
The specialisation of plant and pollinator may be one of the reasons why there are so many species of Heliconia. Through specialisation of pollinators, several, perhaps many, species can co-exist in the same habitat, because they use different pollinators.