The Case of the Mysterious Bird of Paradise

No, this article isn’t about a beautiful tropical bird with a unique and slightly hilarious mating ritual. It’s about the angiosperm (also known as flowering plant) that I came across in Tam-Awan Village in Baguio, Northern Luzon, Philippines depicted in picture provided.


Based on what the employees in Tam-Awan were able to tell me, this plant has the common name of “Bird of Paradise” and it is commonly found in the Philippines. Upon further investigation, the plant is actually called the “False Bird of Paradise”. It’s also recognized by it’s scientific name Heliconia psittacorum which references banana-like leaves and a parrot’s colourful plumage [1]. What’s interesting about this flowering plant besides its uniquely shaped petals and vibrant colour is that it’s actually not an indigenous or native plant to the Philippines, it is actually native to South America [2]. In fact, not much is known about the plant at all. The conservation status for the species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature has not been evaluated [3], hence the mystery.

What is interesting is that the Philippines is one of the global biodiversity hot spots. This means that there is a high degree of variability in the number of plants and animals within the ecosystem [4]. In fact, the Philippines is one of 18 mega bio-diverse countries. It contains two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and between 70% and 80% of the world’s plant and animal species [5]. So, why when there is an abundance of diverse native plants would the people of the Philippines cultivate this flower? One answer that comes to mind is H. Psittacorum‘s visual appeal.

The question that follows is simple: is it ethical to cultivate any species outside of it’s native range? It’s a hard question to answer as a biologist. Currently, we are faced with a possible sixth mass extinction, so shouldn’t we be conserving as many species as possible regardless of their origin? Or should we heed to our traditional idea of conservation which focuses on conserving only native plants and animals and removing the nasty invasive ones? It’s not entirely feasible to stick to our watering cans and try to remove the nasties. Humans are ridiculously good at introducing invasive species in places they should not be found. The continent of Australia is a famously good example of a place overrun by many invasive species such as rabbits, rodents, foxes, cane toads and the list goes on [6].

As easy as it is to introduce them, however, the feasibility of removing invasive species is not as easily undertaken as one would think. Firstly, it is difficult, especially when an organism has become very well established in an ecosystem and secondly, it’s costly. Beyond that, a removal method that is not done properly could allow the invasive species to proliferate even further and possibly make them more susceptible to re-invasion by the same or other invasive species [7].

Ultimately, conserving biodiversity is a difficult task – even more so if you are dealing with an invasive species. Though Tam-Awan village boasts itself on showing traditional Filipino culture and a historical natural environment, it is surprising to see a non-native plant cultivated within the tourist attraction. Whether it should be there or not is entirely dependent upon further research and whether or not there will be a change in the approach to conserving biodiversity. Until an assessment is done by scientists to examine the conservation status of this False bird of Paradise, the question of whether it’s a good idea to cultivate this plant outside it’s native range still remains on the ground. It will take some real hard work to see whether this bird flies.

[1] Hosch, W. L., (2008). Heliconia Plant Genus. Retrieved from Britannia Encyclopedia:

[2] City of Dipolog. (2008). Dipolog Flowers. Retrieved from:

[3] World Land Trust. Parrot Heliconia. Retrieved from:

[4] Oxford English Dictionary. Biodiversity. Retrieved from:

[5] Convention on Biological Diversity. Philippines Country Profile. Retrieved from:

[6] Austrailian Government. Department of Environment and Energy. Invasive Species. Retrieved from:

[7] Zavaleta, E. S., Hobbs, R. J., & Mooney, H. A. (2001). Viewing invasive species removal in a whole-ecosystem context. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 16(8), 454-459.