As one of the most easily recognized tropical plants, Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia ssp) gets its common name from its unusual flowers, which resemble the beak and head plumage of a bird in flight. Native to South Africa, where it also is called the crane flower, Bird of Paradise type plants are popular in conservatory plantings, as specimen plants in large containers in public buildings and ornamental landscaping, and in dwarf varieties as a houseplant.
Bird of paradise flowers come in sets of three to five upright orange or yellow sepals emerging from a six-inch, boat-shaped bract, along with two to three dark blue horizontal petals. The latter is the female portion of the plant, which is located well away from the stamens. Flowering occurs in late winter or early spring. When birds sit on the plant to drink its nectar, the flower petals open, releasing pollen.
Bird of Paradise blooms sit atop of a long stalk ranging in height from two to five feet, with one to three flower sets on each stalk. Resembling small banana leaves with long petioles, the evergreen foliage on Bird of Paradise plants fans out to form a thick, waxy and glossy green crown. Individual leaves emerge from the soil, and are oblong and range in length from 12 to 18 inches. The simple blades are pinnate with a width of four to six inches. The fleshy, fingerlike roots are about 1 inch in diameter. New shoots come from the base of the plant to produce more sets of leaves. Because of its striking appearance and long vase life, bird of paradise makes a good cut flower.
The seeds develop in a woody pod that has three sections with black to brown seeds in them. The seeds each have a bright orange, fuzzy area made up of plant hairs. In the wild, birds eat the seeds and disperse them. But if you’re growing them yourself, you need to soften the seed coats so they hard-coated seeds will germinate.
Bird of Paradise Varieties
- Giant Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)
- Narrow-leaved bird of paradise (Strelitzia juncea)
- Common Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
- Mountain strelitzia or wild banana (Strelitzia caudata)
- White-flowered wild banana, or Cape wild banana (Strelitzia alba)
Giant Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)
Strelitzia nicolai, commonly known as the wild banana or giant white bird of paradise is a larger version of bird of paradise, growing up to 30 feet tall, spreading around 10 feet making it suitable for conservatories. It generally grows at a moderate rate of speed. Giant bird of paradise foliage is green and paddle-shaped and forms into a fan as it arises from the single trunk, growing over 3 feet long.
Narrow-leaved bird of paradise (Strelitzia juncea)
Strelitzia juncea, the rush-leaved strelitzia or narrow-leaved bird of paradise is dramatically different from other varieties of bird of paradise because it slowly forms ever larger clumps of rhizomes from which emerge 4 to 5 foot long bluish-green narrow stalks which are actually leafless petioles and because of these, stalks lack the expanded leaf at the end of the petiole. From late fall through late spring appear orange and blue flowers that rise from reed-like, grayish leaf stalks that can reach up to 6 ft. tall.
From the beak-like green sheath-like bracts (technically a spathe), which can be 6 to 8 inches long and tinged on the upper surface with a pale pink color, emerge the flowers one at a time to display 3 brilliantly orange colored sepals and 3 blue petals, two of which are fused into a long arrow like structure and the third cupped downward as a nectary.
Common Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Strelitzia reginae, commonly known as the crane flower, bird of paradise, or isigude in Nguni is a dramatic plant that generally grows to 30 feet tall and do not bloom until the plants are quite mature. But the large, 18-24 inch wide and 3-4 foot long, banana tree-like leaves are attractive enough on their own to make this an excellent interior foliage specimen for a very tropical look. The leaves can get splits in the leaf when exposed to windy conditions or brushed against in a busy hallway.
The flowers, which emerge one at a time from the spathe, consist of three orange sepals and three purplish-blue or white petals. It can be used to create a lush, tropical effect and offset hard landscaping, buildings and pools. It withstands salty coastal winds, making it a good feature plant or screen for coastal gardens.
Mountain strelitzia or Transvaal Wild banana (Strelitzia caudata)
Strelitzia caudata produces several stems that bear large, showy grey-green leathery-looking leaves measuring up to 1.5m in length. Its flowers are coloured blue and white, from beak-like spathe structures. Also known as Transvaal Wild Banana or Mountain Wild Banana, this striking plant is a popular choice for making a statement in the landscape. In frost-free areas, it can be grown outdoors, providing it has protection from strong winds. It can be planted in large pots and will grow happily for a few years until it becomes too big for the pot.
White-flowered wild banana, or Cape wild banana (Strelitzia alba)
Strelitzia alba also known as white-flowered wild banana, or Cape wild banana is the rarest of the three large banana-like Strelitzia species, because its flowers are completely white and lack the blue color found in other species. Flowering may take place at any time of the year, but is usually between July and December. It grows in evergreen forest, gorges, and on slopes along the rivers.
It forms with its branched rhizomes dense, horstartige stocks. The unbranched, slightly woody trunk has marks through the leaf scars. The spirally distributed on the trunk, on old plants only in the upper part of a kind crown forming leaves are clearly articulated in long petiole and leaf blade. Their simple, smooth-edged, elongated, about leathery, shiny green to greyish leaf blades have a length of up to 2 meters and a width of 40 to 60 centimeters. The leaf blades rip in the wind over time. The clean trunk bears the scars of old leaf-bases.
How To Grow Bird of Paradise
Outdoors, bird of paradise grows well in either full sun, with six to eight hours of direct sunlight, or in partial shade. Place your indoor plant wherever it will get the most light, except in very hot summer temperatures, where it will do best in bright, indirect light.
If your bird of paradise was not originally planted in rich, well-drained soil, consider repotting it help ensure that the plant stays in the very best health. If your bird of paradise is planted in the ground, add organic compost for poor soil and either perlite or sand to help with drainage. For potted plants, make sure that the drainage hole in the container is large enough to allow water to flow out.
Bird of paradise thrives with regular, weekly watering, but you should let the soil dry out a bit before watering again. Water a container plant until you see water running out of the pot, whether indoors or out. Cut back on watering in the winter for indoor and outdoor plants, but increase the humidity indoors by misting the plant daily with water from a spray bottle.
During the growing season, in spring and summer, bird of paradise does best with regular feeding, every two weeks or so. Use a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer for a plant in the ground and a liquid fertilizer for a container plant or add a few inches of rich organic compost over the top of the soil for either plant. Follow the directions on whatever fertilizer you use, being careful not to overfertilize, which can cause too much foliage growth and interfere with the plant’s flowering.
Pests and Disease Control
Bird of paradise is only prone to root rot if you overwater or if its soil is not draining well. If the leaves start to wilt for no apparent reason, either cut back on watering or repot the plant with rich but well-draining soil. Possible pests to watch out for include aphids, mealybugs, scales or whiteflies. Either hose off the bugs with a strong spray of water, handpick the bugs off the plant or wipe the bugs off with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
How To Trim, Prune And Divide Bird of Paradise
After about three weeks of elegant plumage, the bird of paradise starts to lose its glamour and starts to droop. This is the time to trim your bird, eliminating the energy it’s taking away from the rest of the plant. It can be done at any time during the year.
To trim, take out your pruning shears, making sure they’re sharp and clean. A little alcohol rubbed over the blades ensures cleanliness, and proper tools make clean cuts.
Snip the base of the stem where it connects to the main body of the plant. Gardening gloves keep your hands safe from any sharp leaves or prongs. If there are leaves with at least 50 percent of life left in them, let them remain. If a stalk is bent or broken, remove it as well.
The bird of paradise pruning should be done in early spring. Known as a “hard prune,” this deep haircut goes all the way to the ground for stems and leaves and to the base of the stem where it connects to the plant for the flowers. It may look bare for a few weeks, but soon the plant will revitalize itself and start to perk up. Remove the bird of paradise broken stalks during pruning. A hard prune should be done every few years as a reaction to the bird of paradise’s growth rate.
Birds of paradise are fairly large plants, with even the smallest species growing as large as 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Without enough space to grow to maturity, plants become overcrowded and may give lackluster flowers. When planting, be sure to provide enough room for the mature plant size and not just for the size of the young plant. If a plant outgrows its space, you can cut a wide circle in the soil, severing the roots, and transplant to a more spacious area of the garden.
As plants grow, they slowly multiply and might require division to give the plant more room. You simply dig up the plant and divide the root ball into several sections. Return one section to the original planting space and plant the other sections to a new area of the garden. Give the divisions as gifts or add them to your compost pile if you don’t have room for more plants in your garden.