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Plant Profile: Bird of Paradise

Strelitzia reginae

Botanical Name: Strelitzia reginae

Family: Strelitiziacaeae

Type: Perennial

Size: 1.2 metres high

The Bird of Paradise owes its name to its flowers, which look just like tropical birds perched among its leaves. Though hard to grow, the exotic flowers in bloom make the effort worthwhile. Originating from South Africa, the Bird of Paradise is hardy enough to withstand a variety of weather and soil conditions, although in colder places the flowers may be damaged by heavy frosts. They flower mostly in winter and spring but if grown inside will often flower spasmodically throughout the year. Its flowers are orange or yellow in colour with dark blue tongues emerging from green boat-shaped bracts. They have no scent.

The Bird of Paradise is slow-growing and can take up to ten years to grow into a clump about 1.2m high. It will also take several years before it begins to flower. These plants don't take well to being uprooted, but are usually quite happy in a large pot, making them portable. The flowers can by cut and make exquisite and unusual floral arrangements. They will last three or more weeks in a vase and are best picked when only partially open. Make a diagonal cut at the base of the stem to allow them to take up lots of water.

Other varieties of strelitzia include:
Strelitzia reginae var. parvifolia: This plant has very narrow rod-like leaves but is otherwise similar to the reginae variety.
Strelitzia nicolai (Bird of Paradise tree, natal wild banana): This variety has a trunk and can grow to 8-10m high with leaves up to 1.2m long and 60cms wide. Its flowers are light mauve or blue to near white, but similar in shape to the flowers of the more common variety. The flowers, however, are obscured by the foliage.

The Bird of Paradise is difficult and slow to grow from seeds. Germination can take anywhere from one to six months and occurs best at 24 - 27 degrees. Seeds should be planted in a mixture of sand and potting soil. Once the seedlings have emerged, move them to well-drained potting mix and continue to move them to larger pots as they grow. These plants bloom better when crowded, so don't be in a hurry to repot them.

They grow best in bright light and well-drained soil. Using house-plant fertiliser and growing them outdoors during the summer will increase the likelihood of the plant blooming. Be careful not to overwater the plant. The soil should be allowed to dry out before the next watering. Overwatering will lead to root rot, which eventually spreads further up the plant.

Reproduced with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous website of  TVNZ News

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: June 2, 2004