Strelitzia reginae, more commonly called the bird of paradise plant, is among the most flamboyant of garden plants. While the the plant's foliage is attractive, its curious looking and beautiful flowers are the primary reason it is cultivated. A close relative of the banana plant, the bird of paradise is a subtropical plant that originated in South Africa.
A slow-growing plant, the bird of paradise forms trunkless clumps that can reach 4 to 5 feet high and 3 to 5 feet in width and emerge from the large roots in a fanlike formation. The leaves form at the end of long stems and resemble small banana leaves. The flower is the most significant portion of the plant. The 4- to 6-inch-long pointed flower bud will form at an angle at the top of a long stem. The top of the bud will open and a spray of bright orange and feathery petals and purple stamens will emerge, making the flower look a great deal like the head of an exotic bird.
Bird of paradise can be grown either by planting seeds or by planting mature plants. When planting seeds, scratch the hard seed coat with a file or knife, revealing the inner seed a bit. This will allow water to more freely enter the seed. Plant the seeds in a good potting soil mixture. Mature plants can be separated by carefully digging up the root ball and separating the younger offshoots.
The subtropical nature of this plant restricts outdoor plantings to areas of the country where temperatures do not drop below freezing, such as southern Florida. The plant can be grow in more northern areas, but the plants must be protected from extended freezing temperatures as this will severely damage or kill the plant. Bird of paradise plants grow best in fertile soils with good drainage. While the plant will grow in full sun, plants that do are usually smaller with fewer flowers then those that are grown in partial shade.
Pests and Diseases
Bird of paradise plants have very few pests or diseases to worry about. Occasionally, insects that feed on plant fluids, such as aphids, whiteflies, scales and mealybugs will affect bird of paradise. These insects can be controlled easily with systemic insecticides. Sometimes root rot can occur, especially in the younger seedlings. Seeds can be soaked in water overnight, then placed in hot water at 135 degrees F for a half hour to kill any spores. Sterilized planting soils also help.
The bird of paradise is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscape settings. Because of its size and impressive appearance, the plant is frequently featured as a specimen plant. The flowers are also long lasting, even after being cut. This has led to their being frequently used in commercially available flower arrangements.