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If you’ve ever admired the vibrant tropical flowers in Hawaii and wondered what that curvy, claw-shaped red and yellow one is called, look no further! The eye-catching bloom is likely the lobster claw heliconia, one of the most popular heliconia species grown across the islands.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The red and yellow, curved tropical flower frequently seen in Hawaii is commonly known as the lobster claw heliconia. Its scientific name is Heliconia psittacorum.

This article will explore everything you need to know about this beautiful tropical plant – from its physical features and origins to its uses and cultural significance in Hawaiian culture. We’ll cover tips on where you can spot it across the islands and how to grow the lobster claw in your own garden.

Physical Characteristics – What Does the Lobster Claw Heliconia Look Like?

The Signature Curved Flower

The lobster claw heliconia, as the name implies, has a remarkably unique flower shape that resembles the claw of a lobster or crayfish. The flower’s petal stands upright then dramatically curves downward in a hooked shape. This distinctive contour is why it’s sometimes called the hooking heliconia.

The claw-like blossom can grow up to 8 inches long and around 3 inches wide, making it a showstopper in any tropical garden.

Color Variations

While the signature lobster claw form stays consistent across cultivated varieties, the flower hue ranges widely from fiery red to vibrant orange to sunny yellow. Some types, like the Heliconia Chartacea Sexy Pink, live up to their names with hot pink blooms.

The red and orange tones are the most common in the wild. Species with bi-colored petals also exist, flaunting a mix of scarlet and golden yellow.

Large, Glossy Foliage

In addition to its spectacular curved flower, the lobster claw heliconia boasts attractive leaves. The long, wide blades emerge with a striking red tint then mature to a deep green with a glossed shine, growing up to 3 feet long and 1 foot wide.

These large, decorative leaves make an excellent background to highlight the dazzling blossoms. Some varieties also take on a dramatic burgundy hue.

With its showy, one-of-a-kind flower and imposing tropical foliage, the lobster claw heliconia makes a sensational landscape plant and cut flower. It thrives with minimal care in warm environments like Hawaii.

No matter the color, this heliconia’s Unique hooking flower shape guarantees it will grab attention.

Origins and Growing Conditions

Native to Tropical Americas

The vibrant lobster claw heliconia, known by its scientific name Heliconia psittacorum, is native to the tropical forests and rainforests of Central and South America (1). Its natural range stretches from Mexico in the north down through Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela (2).

The plant thrives in warm, humid environments and is accustomed to year-round rainfall and average temperatures of 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humans have cultivated varieties of heliconias like the lobster claw for over 2000 years. Ancient peoples from the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations used them decoratively and medicinally (3). Spanish explorers then brought some species, including H. psittacorum, back to Europe as collector’s items.

Today they are grown commercially around the world in tropical regions as cut flowers and landscape plants due to their vibrant, bird-like flower bracts.

Thrives in Hawaii’s Climate

The consistent warmth, humidity and rainfall in Hawaii provide an ideal growing environment for lobster claw heliconias to thrive. Average temperatures in places like Hilo and Kona range from the mid-60s to high-80s year-round (4).

Hawaii also does not experience harsh winters or frost, allowing the heliconias to grow unencumbered.

Lobster claw heliconias require acidic, well-draining soil and indirect sunlight filtered through trees or bushes. They fare best in areas protected from strong winds, which can damage their large, delicate leaves and flower bracts (5).

The natural rainforests in Hawaii offer the dappled light and protection heliconias need. In cultivated gardens, arbors and screens can replicate these conditions.

With the proper habitat, lobster claw heliconias in Hawaii can grow up to 15 feet tall. Their spike-like flower clusters, consisting of bright yellow and crimson bracts shaped like lobster claws, bloom repeatedly for 9-12 months out of the year (6).

This makes the exotic, tropical-looking plant a stunning addition to any Hawaiian landscape.

Location Average Temp (°F) Average Rainfall (in.)
Hilo, Hawaii 73 126
Kona, Hawaii 76 38

With Hilo receiving over 12 feet of rain annually (7) and Kona still a humid 38 inches, heliconias can flourish across Hawaii with proper care and conditions. Their versatility allows them to accent gardens and yards of all sizes, bringing a vibrant touch of the tropics.


Where to See Lobster Claw Heliconias in Hawaii

Common in Resort Landscapes

The vibrant red and yellow lobster claw heliconia is a popular choice for resort landscapes across Hawaii. Its striking flowers and tropical look make it an eye-catching addition. You’re likely to spot these heliconias while staying at or visiting resorts in Hawaii, especially on the islands of Maui and Kauai.

Many luxury resorts like the Four Seasons Resort Maui and Grand Hyatt Kauai showcase lobster claw heliconias in their stunning gardens. The alluring blooms add pops of color along pathways, pool areas, and event lawns. Couples often take wedding photos with the brilliant heliconias as a backdrop.

Public Gardens

Besides resorts, you can also view lobster claw heliconias at various public gardens and nurseries across Hawaii. Some top spots include:

  • Foster Botanical Garden (Honolulu, Oahu)
  • Nani Mau Gardens (Hilo, Hawaii Island)
  • National Tropical Botanical Garden (multiple islands)
  • Haleakala Orchid Gardens (Maui)

These gardens contain dedicated heliconia collections with various species. Interpretive signs provide details on the different types of heliconias. The brilliant red and yellow blooms of the lobster claw variety will surely catch your eye.

Some nurseries like Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on Hawaii Island also sell lobster claw heliconia plants if you want to take a piece of Hawaii home with you.

Unique Uses and Cultural Significance

Stunning Lei Flowers

The vibrant red and yellow bracts of the lobster claw heliconia make them highly sought after for use in traditional Hawaiian flower leis. Their unique curved shape resembles a lobster claw, adding visual interest to any lei design.

Lobster claw heliconias are often combined with other popular Hawaiian flowers like plumeria, orchids, and anthuriums to create stunning, one-of-a-kind leis.

In Hawaiian culture, flower leis given as a symbol of love, celebration, honor, and respect. The act of exchanging leis represents the linking of hearts and souls. When strung into a lei, the lobster claw heliconia’s symbolic meaning of passion and romance makes it perfect for weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and other momentous events.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, over 40 million flower leis are gifted each year in Hawaii. With their eye-catching form and vivid colors, lobster claw heliconias will likely continue to be a lei making favorite for years to come.

Garden Decor and Gifts

In addition to lei making, lobster claw heliconias are also valued in Hawaiian culture for their usefulness as decorative garden plants and unique floral gifts.

In Hawaiian yards and gardens, lobster claw heliconias are often incorporated as vibrant focal points and striking border plants. Their ability to thrive in tropical environments makes them ideal for island landscaping.

The flowers also make excellent cut arrangements and bouquets to brighten up homes with their splashy island-inspired colors.

As gifts, lobster claw heliconia floral arrangements are meaningful for celebrating births, weddings, graduations, anniversaries, or birthdays. Their emblematic links to Hawaiian culture make heliconia bouquets popular at luaus, dinner parties, and other local events.

Tourists also frequently purchase heliconia flower arrangements as memorable souvenirs from their trips to the Hawaiian islands.

Whether woven into celebratory leis, planted to enhance tropical landscapes, or arranged in cheerful bouquets, the distinctive lobster claw heliconia remains an important part of Hawaiian culture and everyday life.

Both residents and visitors alike continue to appreciate and enjoy this exotic, endemic flower.

How to Grow Your Own

Caring for Mature Plants

Lobster claw heliconias are tropical plants that require warm temperatures, high humidity, and rich, moist soil to thrive. Once established, these striking plants need only moderate care and attention.

Water lobster claw heliconias whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. Give the plants a thorough soaking rather than frequent, light waterings. Adding mulch around the base of the plants helps retain soil moisture.

Feed mature plants monthly during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Prune back any damaged or diseased foliage as needed to keep plants looking their best. Also remove spent flower bracts by cutting them off at the base after they fade. This tidies up the plant’s appearance and conserves its energy.


Lobster claw heliconias propagate easily from divisions or rhizome cuttings. The best time to divide mature plants is in early spring, just as new growth emerges.

  • Carefully dig up the entire plant, keeping the root system intact.
  • Gently shake off excess soil and use a sharp, sterile knife or garden shears to cut the rhizomes apart into divisions with at least 3-5 shoots each.
  • Replant the divisions right away in holes filled with rich, loose soil amended with compost or peat moss. Water well and mulch around transplants.

You can also take 4-6 inch rhizome cuttings in early spring. Lay the cuttings horizontally in seedling flats filled with a moist propagation mix. Keep the mix evenly moist and warm until new shoots and roots form in 4-8 weeks. Then transplant the new plantlets into pots or the garden.

Light Bright, filtered light
Soil Rich, moist, well-draining
Water When top inch is dry
Temperature 70-85°F
Humidity 50% or higher
Fertilizer Balanced; every 4-6 weeks

With the right growing conditions and care, home gardeners can successfully cultivate these gorgeous tropical plants. Their vibrant, artistic blooms will give a lush, exotic flair to indoor spaces or protected outdoor gardens.

For more lobster claw care tips, visit


With its vibrant colors, signature curves and resemblance to a lobster’s claw, this tropical flower has become an icon of the Hawaiian landscape. Learning about the unique characteristics and origins of the lobster claw heliconia gives deeper insight into Hawaiian culture and horticulture.

Next time you visit Hawaii, see if you can spot this beauty in resort gardens or public spaces. Or better yet, grow thiseye-catching flower in your own backyard!

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