Germinating Heliconia Seeds

 I finally acquired some heliconia schiedeana seeds from Whatcom Seed Company and was very impressed with the great service!  They not only shipped them out right away, but also included a great little guide for germinating heliconia seeds, along with padded seed packets complete with a photo of the plant!  (The third photo on the instructions is what I ordered)
Many of you in the tropics have access to heliconia seeds, so why not give it a shot?  
Due to the hard seed coats, I'm here to say that heliconias are notoriously difficult to grow from seed, requiring hardcore scarification (that sounds worse than it is), long soaks in tepid water and a wait ranging from a month to a year!  I have already succeeded in germinating seeds of ensete ventricosum and canna edulis, so I figured that it wouldn't be a stretch to sprout something in the same family...
Here's a summary of what the instructional packet and other sources online recommend for a successful heliconia sprout:

How to Germinate Heliconia Seeds

(These instructions apply to many other seeds with a hard coating, and I sprouted coral beans, sea grape and various sea beans using variations of this technique.)

1.  Scarify the seed coating
By sanding away the seed coat, you're letting water reach the embryo faster, shortening your wait.  You can use sandpaper or a nail file, but make sure you don't sand all the way through the coat or you risk damaging the embryo.

2.  Soak in tepid water
Immerse the seeds in hot water for a few days, replacing the water periodically.  This not only speeds up the process by softening the seed coating, but also helps to sanitize the seed and reduces potential problems.

3.  Plant in sanitized sphagnum moss
I ordered mine with the seeds!  You can use bags, trays or individual containers, but be sure to cover your container with plastic to keep it moist and sterile.  The medium should be moist but not soggy.  It supposedly helps if the white tip is pointing up, and providing a warm and dark environment is ideal.  I'm planting mine in a tupperware container, putting it in my shelf on my shady balcony and covering it with a small towel to help moderate the temperature. 

4.  Keep an eye on them
Just keep checking to make sure that everything's going okay.  If you see a little mold you can either replace some of the medium or sprinkle dry sphagnum on top.  When seeds germinate, transplant them to clean potting soil and watch them grow!

Heliconia Schiedeana is the most cold tolerant of the genus, and will unfurl huge upright paddlelike leaves up to 10 feet tall, eventually bearing a spiraling inflorescence with red bracts and yellow flowers.  I've seen it growing at the Jacksonville Zoo, so I know it can at least tolerate our winters.  It will only flower on stems over a year old, but after a milder winter in zone 9a I'll probably get to see a bloom or two, though the foliage is impressive enough on its own!


  1. Thanks for sharing a new way to germinate seeds. Heliconia plants loos beautiful, new one to me.

  2. I think I see Heliconia Schiedeana in Fairchild garden as well. Hmm, need to go to look my photos. It is very cool to get Heliconia from the seeds. Keep us posted for the progress, and good luck!

    Oh, BTW, I posted the second part of the Fairchild garden trip, you can take a look if you are interested.

  3. It looks like you're going to be quite busy. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing pics of all your new plants.

  4. That is a beautiful heliconia! I love these plants! They are so tropical looking. When I first started to read this post, I thought to myself that I had never heard of growing heliconias from seed. And I did buy mine as a plant. Then I read on that they were notoriously difficult to start from seed. Enough said. I won't be trying that. Good luck to you, though, and I hope it does prove to be cold-tolerant next winter.

  5. Rainforest gardener, that does look like the one I just had flowering in my garden. Good for you having the patience to start growing them from seed. It looks as though you have some good instructions there. I will be following your progress!

  6. I commend you for your fortitude! I'm a bit lazy when it comes to seeds...if I can get the plant, especially for free, I'm IN! I'm also impressed with your patience...a year?!?! But I'm sure it'll be well worth the wait!
    I have some heliconias that were given to me..don't know what kind they are, and actually thought I'd lost them over the winter but they're popping up with pretty green leaves! I'll let you know.
    I also noticed that you have a spider lily crinum on your wish list...I have this in my crinum collection and will send you pups when I get some.

  7. Just ran across this blog. You successful in getting them to sprout?

    I'm currently 6 days in, so I probably have a long ways to go. Looking for some inspiration!



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