Magnificent and long-lasting as a cut flower in a tropical-looking floral arrangement, the bird of paradise makes an attractive garden plant in regions lacking frost. Some even grow as house plants in sunny windows in regions with cold winters. There is perhaps no other flower that evokes whimsy and the exotic than the bird of paradise's shapely blossom. Grow it in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9 through 12.
Bird of paradise is native to the stream banks and scrub land of the Eastern Cape province in South Africa, a subtropical region. European horticulturists were introduced to it in 1773, when it was included in a shipment of live plant specimens headed for the Royal Botanical Garden in England, according to Floridata.
The common names "bird of paradise" and "crane flower" make reference to the abstract shape of the flower stalks, which are long and topped by a horizontal, pointed flower head that looks bird-like. Alternatively, within the colorful flower itself you can see a long-necked bird in flight among the petals. The botanical name, Strelitzia reginae, honors the wife of England's King George III, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, an area of Germany.
A large clumping perennial plant, bird of paradise matures at four to six feet tall and equally as wide. Its thick leathery leaves rise directly from the soil, having a long petiole stem and a paddle-shaped leaf blade that looks somewhat like a banana leaf. Their color is light gray-green to bluish green. Anytime from autumn to spring, the plant produces flowers the are held just above the leaves. They are brightly multicolored with orange, yellow and blue-violet to royal purple.
Few other plants displays flowers that resemble the bird of paradise. The firm, horizontal flower bud or "bird head" at the top of stalk is botanically known as a spathe. From its top unfurls three bright orange sepals and three bright blue to purple petals. Two blue petals are fused together to form an arrow-like nectary. When small pollinating "birds sit to have a drink of nectar, the petals open to cover their feet in pollen," according to PlantzAfrica.
Bird of paradise plants appreciate a nutrient-rich soil that is acidic in pH, although it tolerates sandy soils and those neutral to slightly alkaline, too. For best foliage, plant it in partial sun so it is not scorched by intense sunlight--a location that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily is perfect. It does grow nicely in full sun exposures as long as soil remains moist across the year. While many regard the bird of paradise as a Mediterranean climate perennial, it is native to a region that receives rainfall year round, not primarily in winter. Provide compost or other fertilizers monthly to the plants from spring to early autumn. Cut off dead flowers with a knife or hand pruners to keep the plant looking presentable.