From its iridescent orange or creamy-white birdlike flowers to its exotic, upright, foot-long leaves, bird-of-paradise is a remarkable and visually striking plant. Don’t let its eye-catching, alluring appearance mislead you: bird-of-paradise is not only simpler to grow than many other tropicals, but it’s also a fairly fast-growing plant easy to propagate.
The bird-of-paradise plant is related to the banana. Although there are five different species in its genus, Strelitzia, the most common are the orange-and-blue-flowered S. reginae and the white-flowered S. nicolai. Most species have dark-green, paddle-shaped leaves that are 18 to 24 inches wide and can grow to four feet in length. The much rarer and harder-to-find S. juncea has five-foot-long, reed-like stalks instead of leaves.
This plant will not flower until it is four to five years old. But its “birds in flight” blooms are worth the wait. The S. reginae, with its clusters of luminous flowers, closely resembles a group of cranes on the wing. The actual flower petal is blue, purple, or green and contains the pollen. The yellow, white, and orange sections are the sepals that emerge from the petal and open when the flower blooms. A mature bird-of-paradise produces about three dozen flower spikes each year. These long-lasting blooms stay beautiful for up to two weeks after cutting.
These plants grow where temperatures are warmer, in USDA zones nine through 11. They require full sun to produce profuse blooms. In areas with dryer, desert-like conditions, however, partial shade is best. Don’t let the fact that you’re outside of the recommended zones stop you from planting a bird-of-paradise, though. Cultivate them in containers, then move them indoors once the temperatures start to drop. Make sure your plant is getting lots of bright light, but don’t place it too close to south-facing windows.
Although bird-of-paradise prefers fertile ground, it will grow in just about any well-drained soil. Don’t plant it too deeply. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil’s surface. The first six months are crucial to the bird-of-paradise’s growth. The leaves will turn yellow and die if the soil is too dry or too soggy. A three-inch layer of mulch stabilizes plant temperature, decreases the chance of stem rot, and helps conserve moisture.
You can grow bird-of-paradise from seed if you’re not in a hurry to see the results. The unique black seeds are covered with bright orange fuzz on one end. Sow them in a ready-made mix, vermiculite, or a peat-and-perlite mix about one-half to one-inch deep. From the day of planting, the seeds take months to germinate and between three and five years to bloom. Soak the seeds in tepid water for a couple of days and scuff the shell to increase germination times.
The rhizome is the part of the underground plant stem that grows sideways instead of upwards. It branches out with each new part developing its own roots and shoots. To propagate a bird-of-paradise, divide the underground rhizome. Choose a shoot with at least three leaves, separate it, and plant it in a pot. Bird-of-paradise doesn’t grow flowers until it reaches a certain size. Don’t worry about this plant getting root-bound in the pot. It won’t bloom unless it is.
While the bird-of-paradise can handle colder temperatures down to 24 degrees, it can’t fend off freezes. Cover outdoor bed plants during cold snaps or hard freezes and bring container plants inside. Freezing temperatures will cause severe damage; you can recognize the issue by stems that have turned black or brown and limp stems and leaves.
If your indoor plant doesn’t bloom, try placing it outdoors in the summer during daylight hours. These plants require a lot of bright light to bloom. Flowering usually starts in the late winter or early spring, but could occur at other times as well. When planting outdoors, leave six feet of space between it and other plants — the bird-of-paradise doesn’t like crowded spaces.
This elegant, white-flowered-bird-of-paradise can grow to 30 feet, so if you’re looking for a manageable house plant, this one may not be the best choice. Its stems grow outwards to widths between six and 10 feet and its leaves are between five and eight-feet-long. The S. nicolai is a moderate grower, meaning it will grow between 13 and 24 inches per year.
Bird-of-paradise looks like it belongs under the lush, green canopy of an overgrown rainforest, but this plant grows wild in South Africa’s eastern cape region, along the riverbanks and open areas of its coastline. Birds-of-paradise love mild climates and are popular ornamental plants, especially in Florida and Southern California. The city of Los Angeles adopted the plant’s unique bloom as its official flower in 1952 in celebration of the city’s 171st birthday.