Dividing bird of paradise

Splitting Bird Of Paradise: Information On Dividing Bird Of Paradise Plants

Perhaps your bird of paradise has become too crowded or you simply want to create additional plants for the garden or as gifts for friends. Knowing how to divide a bird of paradise would most likely come in handy if you’re not familiar with this.

If your plant is growing in a container, it is an essential part of proper bird of paradise plant care to keep it from getting too root bound, though they like to be somewhat so. Let’s look at dividing bird of paradise plants.

About Splitting Bird of Paradise

First of all, it’s important to note that bird of paradise generally blooms best from large clumps or when slightly pot bound. For this reason, dividing is seldom necessary. However, these plants can be repotted or divided as needed in spring, but keep in mind that flowering will be put off or reduced.

How do you know when this is necessary? Potted plants that have become too large may have roots protruding from the container or cracking it. Garden plants may simply spread away from their intended boundaries.

This can be remedied with spade pruning — driving a spade shovel into the ground around the plant to sever the runaway rhizomes.

How to Divide a Bird of Paradise

The easiest way to propagate bird of paradise is through division. Dividing bird of paradise plants is best accomplished on mature plants that have been previously blooming for at least three years.

You can create new plants by removing young suckers from the plant or by digging up old clumps and separating the underground rhizomes with a sharp knife. Prior to new growth in spring, lift the plant from the ground or pot and cut the rhizome into sections, making sure each section contains a fan with roots.

Transplanting Bird of Paradise Divisions

Replant the divisions in similar locations and at the same depth as the previous plant it was taken from and water thoroughly. Likewise, you can plant them in individual pots with well-draining soil and water well.

Keep these in a warm area with bright, indirect light for about eight weeks or until the roots become well established. At this time, they may be moved to a sunnier location.

It will take about two to three years for flowering to occur in new divisions.

Meet my new bird of paradise plant. It has no name. Just a baby, the plant is about one foot tall. I bought it through Amazon and it arrived well packed and very healthy. This is the second bird of paradise I’ve had. The first also came to my doorstep as a baby. It grew to a full sized plant, over six feet tall. After twelve to fifteen years of living with this gigantic house plant, I decided it was time for it to go to a more suitable environment. I sold it to a man with a large atrium where it would have room to stretch out. My new baby is a dwarf plant and won’t grow taller than two to three feet. Phew!

Bird of paradise plants grow slowly, especially in the contained surroundings of the house. Just sprouting a seed can take years. Once the seed starts, a rhizome grows and leaves develop. These plants are related to the banana and the leaves have a similar look. When leaves begin to grow, each successive one is a bit taller and broader than the last. When the plant gets to be four to six years old, it may bloom. My baby is the common orange or red variety. The flowers will look like this, an example growing outside in Spain.

Bird of paradise bloom in the late summer if there is enough light, food, water and humidity. I found the plant to be fairly easy to grow and my large one bloomed every year with multiple flower stalks. You can tell the flowers as they emerge from the base of the plant. The newly growing leaves look like rolled scrolls and flowers have a snake-head appearance. The stalk grows to the same height as the leaves, forms the bird-head then pops up one flower after another until the flower head is fully open. The flower will sometimes drip a small amount of sticky, clear sap as a new set of petals emerges.

Bird of paradise plants require big containers. They have huge root systems like tangled snakes, some close to an inch in diameter. The roots coil around the pot and push, expanding until the pot breaks. Root pruning is necessary and occasional dividing of the plant to keep it within houseplant bounds. Outdoors, bird of paradise will colonize a large area over time, just like irises.

I fed my old plant with regular houseplant fertilizer, watered every week, used a mulch of a carpet-forming plant around the base and misted the leaves with water to keep them dusted. The plant did well in an east window where there was plenty of light. Our house can get chilly at night in winter, down into the fifties, but the plant never minded. When the flowers are done, or the leaves turn yellow, cut back to the base just above the wide area where the stalk emerges to remove the old growth.

I look forward to seeing my new baby bloom. The wait is worth it. Once the plant becomes established, it is like a member of the household, its big leaves and beautiful flowers demanding attention. Right now the tiny plant is adorable, like any other baby, because I know just how huge it will become one day.

The tropical feel of the plant helps to ward off cabin fever when the snow is deep outside and the wind keens around the house corners. I look at the plant and imagine a white sand beach, the hiss of surf and a gentle breeze from the south. Helps to forget winter for just a few moments.

All about Bird of Paradise – History, Meaning, Facts, Care & More

When it comes to tropical flowers, nothing will compare to the unique beauty of Bird of Paradise flower. The complex appeal of the blooms and the beautiful combination of colors make this flower the quintessential exotic tropical flower. It has three petals in bright orange color and the three blue petals are fused together in one single bud. The shape of the flower resembles that of a tropical bird in the act of flight.

Aside from the rare shape of the flowers of Bird of Paradise, this plant also has a very unique leaf. Its foliage is like the leaves of banana that has long petioles. They are in two ranks arranged beautifully and strictly forming like a crown. With its glossy green and waxy thick foliage, the flower makes a very attractive and colorful plant to add to a landscape in the garden or front porch or indoor.

  • Bird of Paradise History

The flower of Bird of Paradise has a scientific name of Strelitzia reginae which was named by Sir Joseph Banks for the genus Strelitzia. Sir Banks named it in honor of Queen Charlotte, the Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Since 1773, this flower has been grown in Kew, South Africa at the Royal Botanic Gardens. It is known also as the Crane Flower originating from South Africa.

Throughout time, this flower has been popular not only as an exotic flower but as a source of inspiration in fine arts, floral artistry, paintings, and more. Georgia O’Keefe, a floral artist used the flower in her masterpiece painting. She used White Bird Paradise in 1940s.

This flower was also made into a stage or theatrical play in 1912. The story was about interracial romance which revolved between a young American sailor and a beautiful Polynesian. It was popularized in Hawaii and was made into a film in 1932.

  • Bird of Paradise Meanings

There are two major representations that are linked with this flower, beauty and freedom. Symbolizing paradise and royalty, this flower of the tropical regions is a perfect gift on cheerful and joyful occasions and special events. In addition, it also represents immortality. When sending a flower arrangement or a plant that contains Bird of Paradise, it could mean that you are optimistic of the future or that you want to celebrate the occasion.

Another meaning associated with this flower is excellence and success or magnificence. It also represents the 9th wedding anniversary. However, this flower is also symbolic of passion and high energy with its sets of contrasting colors and variations in textures, sizes, and shapes of leaves.

  • Bird of Paradise Facts

Bird of Paradise flower is a species with many varieties but only 6 of those are recognized worldwide. Out of those six varieties, two are most common and popular, the Strelitzia Nicolai and Strelitzia reginae. Strelitzia Nicolai is the white-colored Bird of Paradise while the Strelitzia reginae is the orange-colored ones and known as Crane Lily. The Strelitzia Caudata or Swaziland is the African desert banana and the Strelitzia Alba or Augusta is the white one.

This flower is from the family of Stretliziaceae, which is a close family or relative of the banana plant. The large and fan-like leaves of this flower look like that of the banana. The largest species of this flower is from the Strelitzia Nicolai. It is commonly referred to as the giant bird of paradise species. It can grow as tall as 30 feet.

Pollination of this plant is done in the wild through the sunbirds. Birds feed regularly on the sweet nectar of this flower. The pollen is attached to the bird’s wings whenever they land on the petals, thus pollination happens.

Freshly cut flowers of Bird of Paradise can last from one to two weeks provided that proper care is performed. Moreover, the flowers are known to have toxicity level which may induce intoxication in dogs and cats.

Blooming from March to October each year, the Bird of Paradise flowers make a perfect addition to the garden’s landscape or to the flower bouquet. It can be grown indoors, too, in pots or containers. Other uses of this flower include wedding bouquets, weekly office reception flower, interior decorations, and artists’ objects.

  • Bird of Paradise Care

For a tropical flower originated from South Africa and other tropical forests in the regions, this plant is expected to require a tropical type of weather and environment, including the soil and humidity. It requires moist on soil and a good amount of light from the sun. It prefers loamy soil and some food plant from time to time, especially during the growing stage. Regular watering is essential during the summer season and early spring. During the winter season where snow is abundant, it is best to keep the plant indoors. If the plant is still young but actively growing, repotting it into a larger pot or container will allow the roots to have enough room to grow.

After two years of consistent blooming, the flower has reached its maturity and will need to be carefully divided to encourage the growth of new stems. This will help the plant to bloom again for another two or three years. Aside from repotting and dividing, you can also propagate this plant from its seeds.

The flowers of a bird of Paradise, whether in white, orange, yellow, or purple color, are a perfect romantic gift of a flower. It conveys love and thoughtfulness, as well as loyalty and faithfulness. Sending this flower to a loved one or to a celebrant makes your heartfelt greetings more extravagant and one of a kind.

Propagation of the Giant Bird of Paradise

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Root division is the simplest way to propagate a giant bird of paradise, but keeping in mind that the plant can grow to 30 feet tall, that may not be saying much. Propagation by division will produce flowers in two to three years, while propagation will take considerably longer, up to 10 years. The flowers are worth waiting for. The giant bird of paradise produces white flowers 18 inches long with a blue tongue and reddish-brown bracts.


The giant bird of paradise has a fleshy root system called rhizomes. In order to divide the roots, you’ll have to get at them first. Carefully dig with a shovel to unearth part of the root system. You could also remove any young offshoots that appear instead of digging and severing a section of rhizome. Take a sharp, clean knife and cut off a section of the rhizome that has at least four to five young shoots. Divide roots in late spring or early summer.


Fill a small pot — 3 to 6 inches — with a well-draining potting soil that has little to no peat moss, but a little organic matter. Plant the rhizome section and water it well until the soil is sufficiently moist. Place the pot in indirect sunlight for eight weeks, as Clemson University recommends, then move the pot to bright light as its leaves develop.


The new plant should put out its own roots in about three months, according to The University of Hawaii at Manoa. Plant it outside at the same depth as the parent plant and keep the soil moist.

Propagation By Seed

Propagation by seed is another option. Flowers that are allowed to go to seed will produce 60 to 80 seeds in a single pod. The seeds are black with orange tufts, suitably flashy for such a plant. Plant the seeds before the seed coat hardens in a loose soil with organic material and place it in bright, indirect light. Keep the soil moist. The seeds will germinate in two to three months. They are safe to transplant into a larger pot when they have two or three true leaves, according to the University of Hawaii.

Bird of Paradise plants are a marvelous combination of a distinctive shape and brilliant colours in flower!!

Unfortunately, this photo does not do this Bird of Paradise justice. It is quite a healthy specimen. An indication of its health is the number of blooms you can see amongst its leaves. If you look hard, you will discern at least seven blooms on it !

Origin & Species: Native to South Africa, the bird of paradise is a large tropical herb that is a member of Musaceae or the banana family. The scientific name is Strelitzia reginae. The bird-of-paradise is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, and order Zingiberales.
The on the left is Strelitzia reginae, while S. juncifolia bears small needle-like leaves. S. nicolai is a much larger plant, reaching up to 20 feet in height. It bears a white flower with a purple-blue bract.
Care: Light The Bird of Paradise does require a good amount of sunlight; however, the plant pictured on the left is beneath a large tree, so it is apparently in the shade for a portion of the day.
Temperature: Definitely a tropical, bird of paradise needs protection below 30 degrees.
Fertilization: The Bird of Paradise should be fertilized with a good liquid plant food, plus several applications of blood meal and bone meal in early and late summer.
Pruning: Bird of Paradise respond especially well to pruning.
Watering: Do not overwater the Bird of Paradise. It fares better if the roots can dry out somewhat between waterings.
Propagation: Bird of Paradise may be propogated via rhizome division.

The plant itself can reach up to 5 feet in height with a 2-3 foot spread. The plant is trunk less, compact and clustering but slow growing with fleshy roots. S. reginae has banana shaped stiff- leathery, concave, oblong, bluish-gray leaves with a pale or red midrib. The leaves are attached to a long stalk that sometimes reaches up to 2 feet in length.

Because of the banana shaped leaves and other plant characteristics it was classified in the banana family Musaceae, however now it has its own family Strelitziacea. The name Bird of Paradise comes from the spectacular flower shape which resembles a birds beak and head plumage.

Flower Charateristics:

The Bird of Paradise flower is a spectacular blossom. Long stemmed flowers emerge from green boat-shaped bracts which are bordered in red or purple. The numerous pointed petals of brilliant orange are contrasted with an arrow-shaped tongue of vivid blue. Some species have white and blue.

The flowers have several “sets” of flowers in each bract which are formed on the end of a stalk. Beginning normally in the winter and spring the flowers will come out in succession over a period of time. In colder climates greenhouse grown plants can bloom intermittently all year round. According to Graf by keeping the plant cool and dry in the spring flowering can be delayed until summer.

If started from seed it takes five to seven years for blossoming to begin. Some text suggest three years from seed.

Even as cut flowers the succession of bloom will continue to occur and last for weeks if the water is changed regularly. (While no one has defined regularly most likely once a week is sufficient.)

The flowers have no scent.

The Strelitzia reginae prefers full sun, 4000-8000 ft-candles, but can tolerate 2000 ft-candles. However flowering will be diminished at 2000 ft-candles. It is a warm temperate plant preferring 65-70 degrees F during the day and 50-55 degrees F at night. They prefer moderate humidity, around 60%. This may require some daily misting during the dry winter months. In areas of the world where there is no danger of frost it can be planted outdoors. Elsewhere it will need to be brought indoors in the fall when temperatures begin to drop in the 50’s (F). Overwintering should be done in a cool place where the temperature will be 50-55 degrees F. An alternative for outdoor culture in climates that have frost is to permanently plant a slightly bigger pot in the ground and place your potted Strelitzia in this pot and cover with a mulch. It looks like an in ground plant, but when cool weather comes and it is time to bring it in you just lift it out of the ground and bring it inside.

Watering & Fertilization:

The plants should be watered and fertilized according to growing conditions. Most often the Strelitzia is underfertilized. When you do water thoroughly wet the entire potting mix and allow to it dry out slightly before the next watering. Use discernment in the amount of fertilization you use. Overfertilization will lead to excessive foliage and little or no flowering. Here are general guidelines by season.


Start to water more regularly and feed the plant every other week.


The plant can be grown outdoors when the temperatures reach around 60-70 F. Water regularly and fertilize each week.


Watering should decrease as the light intensity decreases.


Water sparing during the winter until blooming begins, then gradually increase the frequency of watering.

Overwatering, especially in the winter will lead to root rot, which will spread upward into the crown ( just above the soil surface). If noticed in time stop watering for a while. If the problem continues to spread up the stems then a fungicide should be used. See pest below for more details.


Strelitzia reginae are relatively pest free. For practical purposes they have no problems, but occasionally some pest problems occur.

Root Rot:

Caused by overwatering, a combination fungicide of ethazole + thiophanate-methyl gives very broad coverage of the root rot causing organism. This fungicide can be found under the trade name of Banrot. Thoroughly soak the soil as well as the crown with the fungicide mix.


Scale insects can be treated with insecticidal soap or removed by hand with a sponge and soapy water. It is recommended that you take a damp sponge and clean the leaves once a month.


Nematodes cause a problem for the roots of Strelitzia. Use clean potting mix or soil when repotting, topdressing or any other type of soil changing. Keep pots off of the ground to prevent nematodes from infecting the potting media from your native soil.


Sow seeds in a propagating mix or make your own mix by using equal parts of sand and potting soil. Seeds must be fresh, less than 6 months old and absolutely less than a year old. Germination occurs best at 75-80 degrees F. Germination is a slow process for Strelitzia seeds. Anywhere from 1-6 months.

Once your seedlings have emerged and are growing well move them into a well drained potting mix. As the plants grow keep moving them to larger pots.

Remember though that they bloom better when crowded, so be slow to repot and quick to leave alone. One of the best specimens of Strelitzia reginae I have ever seen is one at a garden center that is about 15 years old and hasn’t been repotted for at least 10 years. The container has burst from the pressure of the numerous crowns, but it always has three to four flowering stalks on it year round!


When the plants have grown strong divide them to make more plants. Dividing in the Spring is preferred, however you can divide mostly year round.

Outside of that just topdress the pot with a clean potting mix when the soil level starts to get to low. Only repot when it is absolutely necessary.

Drying the Blooms:

If you desire to use the blooms in floral decorations which needs a preserved flower the Bird of Paradise will fit into your plans. Take a flowering stalk from the plant and some leaf stalks if you wish. Crush the cut end of the stalk and place it in 4 or 5 inches of a water solution containing 1 part glycerine and 2 parts water. After the glycerine has penetrated the entire surface area of the stalk, the stem/leaf color will change and begin to ooze at the edge. This should take a week or so. When the stalk is saturated remove and hang upside down until thoroughly dry. Obviously this can get messy so you need a place to allow dripping of the solution onto a floor or table.

Once called “wild bananas” and “false birds-of-paradise” , this plant now answers to heliconia

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Heliconias do great in Southwest Florida! This native to tropical America easily adapts to a variety of home landscapes and sports colorful bracts of red, yellow, orange, and pink which adorn deep green leafy plants from one and one-half foot to over fifteen feet tall. From sun to part shade, heliconia can handle many settings and is a real tropical point of interest.

In general design, heliconias have spear-shaped leaves on long stems. Their “flowers” are made up of colorful leaf-like bracts which house the real flowers. Most heliconias are best in part sun/part shade sites where they should be provided with rich organic soils and plenty of room to spread. Although heliconias do best in well-drained soils, they have the ability to tolerate wet soils during the growing season and do appreciate regular moisture. On the other hand, these perennials do not tolerate drought well, and have a very low tolerance to salty conditions. Prepare new planting beds with compost to enrich the soil. Heliconias reproduce via rhizomes – thick underground stems. As these rhizomes may be fairly close to the surface, plant new specimens a few inches deeper to offer better stem support. Some resulting shoots can fall over. Heliconia are by nature relatively tall, and may need some artificial support in the form of a stake to hold up the plant; especially if it has a heavy flower.

Like their relatives, the bananas, heliconias are considered heavy feeders. As such, use any general purpose fertilizer with micronutrients as per label directions about three times per year. In some areas, helconias can grow and flower practically year-round. In our area, except in the warmest spots, most heliconia will stop flowering and growing during winter – some may even suffer dieback from frosts and freezes. Not to worry, the rhizomes generally over-winter and sprout back as the weather warms. You may need to clean-up the old leaves as part of plant sanitation and for neatness sake at this time. Keep in mind that once a heliconia stalk flowers, that whole cane eventually dies back. Individual stalks that were frozen may not flower. Flowers most commonly emerge from sound, one-year old stems . Some types of heliconia may take longer and flower from two-year old canes.

And now for the bad news. Sometimes heliconias can be “too successful”. Not to say that they are officially invasive, but they can rapidly take over a bed and may even move out of a planting into the lawn. Root barriers can help as well as an occasional cleaning out of the bed and division and resetting of rhizomes. Be a friend and give some away as well. Some small forms of heliconia can be planted in large containers which also helps keep them in bounds.

As there are so many varieties of heliconias to choose from, I will leave the selection up to you. In addition to making an excellent landscape plant, these plants also provide long-lasting, exotic cut flowers. Heliconias offer an easy-to-grow tropical flowering perennial plant that can quickly transform your landscape into a showstopper! I started with just a few heliconia plants, and the rest is history! For more information on tropical flowering plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – .

Gardening Solutions (2017) – Heliconia – The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
McAvoy, G. (2017) Hendry County Horticulture News – Heliconia Impart a Tropical Look. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Henry County.
Gilman, G. F. & Meerow, A. (2014) Heliconia spp. Heliconia. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Schmidt, E. (2017) Heliconias for Central Florida. Leu Gardens.
Watson, D. P. & Smith, R. R. (2017) Ornamental Heliconias – University of Hawaii – Cooperative Extension Service – Circular 482
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.

by spacemonkey

Posted: November 3, 2017

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes

Tags: exotic, Heliconias, part shade, sun, tropical

Birds of Paradise- the Strelitzias

Ever since I was young, bird of paradise plants intrigued me. My best friend’s dad had a small greenhouse in our home in northern New Mexico, one of the last climates you would ever expect to see a bird of paradise. It was so exotic and bizarre that I took some time to believe that such a plant could exist in nature. The flowers look so bird-like that it’s hard to believe its mere coincidence. I never imagined I would live somewhere this plant would be so commonplace I would hardly ever give them a second look. But here I am now in southern California where Strelitzias are one of the most commonly planted landscape plants.

Strelitzia is a genus of about 5 or 6 species (depending on who you listen to) of monocot plants closely related to the bananas and even more closely related to Ravenala, the Madagascan plant known commonly as the Traveler’s Palm. Strelitzia is a primarily South African genus, though Strelitzia alba is also found in Madagascar. All these plants are subtropical and grow in fairly low rainfall areas, so they tolerate only minimal frost but are fairly drought tolerant.

The leaves of most Strelitzias are ‘paddle-shaped’ and resemble banana leaves only with longer petioles. Strelitzia juncea leaves are ‘paddle-less’ once the plant is mature, leaving just pointed spikes. When young, most Strelitzias grow in a distichous pattern (leaves in only two ranks/planes), but as older plants begin to offset, the overall effect is of leaves growing in all directions, particularly in the smaller species. However, each individual plant remains truly distichous forever, unlike how bananas grow. The leaves of all these bird of paradise are thick and leathery, also unlike the thin, rubbery leaves of most true bananas. Leaves of this genus are listed as ‘possibly toxic’ but few cases of actual toxicity exist in the literature, at least in small animal medicine. The seeds are supposedly more toxic and will cause vomiting if ingested.

(left) Leaves of normal Strelitzia reginae. (middle) A narrower-leaved version, folded in a bit due to the dry climate. (right, or below) Close-up of Strelitzia reginae leaf.

Strelitzia nicolai leaves

Strelitzia juncea leaves (mature on left, immature on right)

It is the flowers of this genus that attract the most attention. In their native South Africa these are also known as crane flowers, as they resemble the heads of the crowned crane. Strelitzia reginae is the most well known species and its flower is the most crane or bird-like. But they are also brilliantly colored with most of the species having a blue ‘tongue’ arising from a dark green, blue or purple boat-shaped lower ‘bill’ and a fan of orange, yellow or white petals that resemble the head feathers of some exotic birds (notably the crowned crane). An adult Strelitzia reginae plant in full flower looks as if there were a several birds hidden in the foliage craning their necks just above the leaves and looking about in all directions. They are truly marvelous curiosities and extremely ornamental landscape plants. The larger species have less-colorful flowers, but they still look like bird heads, only without the necks.

(left) Strelitzia juncea flower. (middle) Strelitzia nicolai flowers. (right, or below) Strelitzia reginae flower.

top view of flowers with white or orange sepals and blue petals

Double flowers are not unusual (left) Strelitzia juncea (middle) Strelitzia reginae, though normal with Strelitzia nicolai (right, or below)

(left) Strelitzia reginae flower forming a second flower. (right) As it emerges from the spathe (the lower ‘beak) base of the first flower.

The flower anatomy is not simply attractive, but functional as well. The blue ‘tongue’ of the flower is the actual petals and contains the pollen (which can be seen if you spread apart the split down the middle of these petals.) At the base of the petals is where most of the attractive nectar ‘bait’ is located. As a pollinating bird sits upon the petals to drink the nectar, the weight of the bird spreads apart the petals and the feet of the bird are covered in pollen. Then the bird proceeds onto the next flower, usually first alighting upon the stigma (that sticks out like a perch from the blue petals). As the bird sits upon this stigma, which is very sticky, it gets covered with pollen and the flower is fertilized!

Petals split apart a bit to show the white pollen below and the pure white stigma pointing out like a needle; second photo is of older petals spread apart showing most pollen gone and the sticky stigma covered with debris

As the flowers die, the seeds mature and eventually fall to the earth from the dried dead flower. In ideal conditions the seeds take 1 to 2 months to germinate and another 4 to 5 years for a mature flowering plant to develop. Most growers, however, simply divide mature plants to get more plants.

Seed pod and seeds (photos by eliasastro)

All these species are reportedly easy to grow (in zones 9 and above) requiring little nurturing once fully established. As mentioned above, these are relatively drought-tolerant plants only requiring regular watering in desert climates. This is one of the reasons these are so popular as landscape plants and why they are nearly everywhere you look in public landscaping throughout southern California. The smaller plants are more drought-tolerant than the larger ones, and Strelitzia juncea is probably the most drought-tolerant of all (presumably due to the lack of transpiration from its ‘leafless’ leaves). All Strelitzias prefer full sun though most will tolerate some shade. However few will flower well in shady environments. Fertilizer is applied as needed but in soils with some clay, frequent fertilization is not needed. Plants will flower more reliably if fertilized at least a couple times a year. Strelitzias are fairly tolerant of most soils, though extremely sandy, fast-draining soils in arid climates may necessitate increased irrigation frequency.

Strelitzia reginae is seen all over southern California in the landscape (first photo); Strelitzia nicolia is nearly as common (second photo); and even Strelitzia juncea shows up now and then (third photo)

Despite their tolerance for neglect, they do respond well to regular fertilization and will certainly flower more reliably if grown in rich acidic soils with a consistent application of balanced fertilizer (most recommend 10-10-10).

Pruning the smaller Strelitzias involves cutting or pulling dead leaves and flowers as close to the ground as possible, though I often see large public landscaped plants given ‘hurricane cuts’, where all the outer growht was cut down to around six inches above ground level, leaving only a narrow ‘shuttle-cock’ growth of leaves and flowers in the center. Others will even ‘root-prune’ around the edges of larger clumps, hacking at the plant a good few inches below the soil level all the way around the plant. This helps to keep plants a constant diameter, as some clumps, left unattended, can grow into shrubs dozens of feet in diameter and quickly outgrow its intended position. I personally prefer to pull out old flowers and leaves, if possible, rather than cutting as this leaves less bulk and width of the clump and keeps the overall plant looking much cleaner. However, this method is no recommended for plants without good, sturdy root systems, or plants in pots (as you may end up yanking the whole plant out of the pot or ground). Keeping ahead on pruning is important as unattended clumps of Strelitzia get very messy and somewhat unsightly, and are very difficult to prune once they form a large, thick shrub.

Pruning the larger species really requires one to keep up with things as these really can get of of control in a hurry. The dead leaves have to be cut as close to the ground as possible (no way to pull these unless they are really rotted and moist), but often even the lower living leaves are cut to keep the plants looking more trim. Eventually these will require ladders to read the higher stems, and pruning will involve not just cutting away the lower leaves, but cleaning of the stems to give them a healthy, neat, smooth trunk.

In general the Strelitzias are fairly easy plants to move. The thick, tuberous, carrot-like roots can be dug up easily, and even hacked apart, and the plants will usually tolerate this abuse well, though flowering cycles may be set back a few years.

potted plant showing some of the thick, succulent roots

Some grow these plants as indoor or houseplants and I have seen Strelitzia nicolai frequently used in this fashion. However I don’t know if these plants survive for very long in such low light situations; the plants I see tend to be quite etiolated (stretched ) and look sort of weak. Leaves of these indoor plants develop a weird ultra-dark green coloration and I have never seen an indoor plant with flowers. It is best to give any Strelitzia grown indoors as much light as possible, and move it outdoors for as much of the year as possible to keep it healthy. Fortunately these are pretty adaptable plants.

Strelitzia reginae, aka common bird of paradise or crane flower, is the most common and familiar plant in this genus growing 3 to 6 feet tall depending on lighting, age and variety–some miniature forms don’t even get that tall. Leaves are bright green to blue green, leathery and are somewhat boat-shaped with prominent parallel veins. During intense winds the leaves sometimes split along these veins, but for the most part, this plant is extremely wind tolerant and remains in excellent condition despite high winds and inclement weather. Flowers are brilliantly colored with bright blue petals and orange sepals. A variety called ‘Mandella’s Gold’ has yellow sepals. They have multi-colored spathes of blue-green and red, often with various other colors like pink, orange, vermillion, white, lime green, yellow etc. It is no wonder this plant says “Tropics.” Inflorescences are hardy and strong and make excellent cut flowers for arrangements and decorating. Flowers can occur year round in the right climate though seem to prefer the warmest seasons. A single inflorescence will usually produce multiple flowers. As one flower ages it becomes more upright and another set of petals and sepals emerge from the spathe. Most spathes will develop up to 3 flowers or more and some flowers will develop yet another complete inflorescence from the spathe (called a double flower). Once the flower heads die, I find it is best to grab the petiole as low to the ground as possible and yank the dead inflorescence from the plant. This keeps the plants relatively neat and tidy over time. Simply cutting off the dead flowers and leaves will leave a plant messy and much less-elegant looking eventually. This species is cold-sensitive, but tolerates frosts pretty well down into the mid 20s–but not colder.

Strelitzia reginae ‘Mandella’s Gold’ photos

Strelitzia nicolai, the giant bird of paradise, is the second most commonly grown species and is a much larger plant than Strelitzia reginae, growing up to 30 feet tall and eventually growing into a massive shrub up to 20 feet in diameter. Unlike the hardier Strelitzia reginaes, the leaves of this species are quite susceptible to wind and often become tattered to shreds in areas with little protection. Leaves are somewhat similar in overall shape with a bit more rounded at the tips and relatively wider overall… and much larger of course. Leaves of this species are usually bright green to deep green though sometimes a bit blue-green. This species is also more prone to frost damage than Strelitzia reginae with severe leaf damage only 3 or 4 degrees below freezing. Flowers are borne on short petioles (3 to 8 inches) preventing these flowers from being popular cut flowers. Also the spathes are often far too sticky from nectar and pollen adhesives to be convenient for use in the flower trade. These flowers are about 2 or 3 times the size of Streliztia reginae flowers with pale blue petals and pure white sepals. The spathes are a deep, dark blue-green to purplish color. But the overall shape is still quite bird-like and easily recognizable as a bird of paradise. And even without the flowers, it is an amazing landscape plant. You can see these growing by the thousands all over the Los Angeles and other southern California metropolitan areas. It is one of the most popular of all the larger public landscape species.

old huge clump of Streltzia nicolai in Los Angeles arboreteum before pruning, and after; clump of young plants that could use pruning as well

Strelitzia nicolai flowers showing very short petioles (not even visible) and dripping sticky material on spathe in second photo

Strelitzia nicolai in the Los Angeles landscape

(left) Differences between Strelitzia reginae on left and young Strelitzia nicolai on right. (right) Nursery-grown giant birds of paradise

Some confuse this species with Ravenala madagascariensis, the traveler’s tree. Though very closely related, this latter plant produces less-cupped (i.e., flatter) leaves that have longer petioles and are longer and somewhat less stiff themselves. This plant eventually forms wonderfully stacked leaves in a neat, perfectly two dimensional plane for an incredibly ornamental effect. Flowers of these two species are similar, but traveler’s tree flowers have lime-green spathes, no blue tongues and the sepals are a pale yellowy color. Sadly this species is even more cold sensitive and I cannot get one to survive in my climate here in inland Los Angeles.

Strelitzia nicolai is also quite similar to two other species of Strelitzia, S. alba and S. caudata, and frankly I still cannot tell them apart despite reading a few descriptions that try to clear up their differences. One of the common names for Strelitzia nicolai is white bird of paradise, which of course is also the common name for Strelitzia alba. It does not help, no doubt, that most plants in California identified as Strelitzia alba are indeed Strelitzia nicolai, and also that Strelitzia caudata is extremely rare in the U.S. (and I have never seen one in real life). You can read more about these plants on this website and maybe the differences will be more clear to you.

plant labeled as Strelitzia alba in Huntington Gardens… no idea if it’s a correct identification or not, though

Strelitzia juncea is the only other relatively commonly grown species of Strelitzia, at least here in the US, though it is still rare and pricey compared to the above two species. This is also known as the rush bird of paradise, narrow-leaved bird of paradise and african desert banana. This ‘species’ is a bit of taxonomic puzzle as it is described on various internet sites with nearly equal frequencies as either its own species , as a variety of Strelitzia reginae, or as Strelitzia parvifolia var. juncea. For simplicity I just refer to it as Strelitzia juncea but mostly likely the correct identification is as an extreme variety of Strelitzia reginae, while Strelitzia ‘parvifolia’ is most likely in-between variety. This plant has peculiar leaves that have no leaf blade at all, at least once they mature. The petioles just continue on to a point. What is interesting as that as seedlings, these plants are identical to normal Strelitzia reginae, complete with the typical boat-shaped leaves. As they mature the leaf blades become shorter and more paddle-like, eventually shrinking to itty bitty little ‘spoons’ and finally disappearing completely. Some Strelitzias have leaves that shrink to paddle-shaped leaf blades but maintain that characteristic on to maturity. Some identify this form of Strelitzia as Strelitzia parvifolia (in other words, another completely unique species). My guess is that a thorough study of these plants in the wild would reveal a continuous gradient of variations in some populations strengthening the argument for all these as being varieties of Strelitzia reginae. However that is only my guess.

Strelitzia juncea sans flowers- not too ornamental?; but looks great when flowering nicely; good plant for cactus gardens

This plant is my favorite Strelitzia because I love weird plants. And of course it’s still considered a collector’s item. Additionally it appears to be the most drought-tolerant species and so it suits my desert landscaping the best. Flowers are nearly identical as far as I can tell to those of Strelitzia reginae. I don’t know much about its cold tolerance, but I would not be surprised to discover it is the most resistant to frost damage, as the leaves are this genera’s weakness when it comes to frost, and this plant really doesn’t have leaves.

my own Strelitzia juncea on left, Strelitzia reginae ‘Mandella’s Gold’ on right; second two photos are of Strelitzias with little spoon-shaped leaves that I am assuming are immature Strelitzia junceas, but may indeed be some sort of ‘in-between’ form of Strelitzia reginae (or Strelitzia parvifolia as some call these plants)

There are more species of Strelitzia (S. alba and S. caudata), but as I mentioned already, I cannot tell them apart from Strelitzia nicolai.

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