The bird-of-paradise is a spectacular display of color and form. It is an evergreen plant with banana-like foliage that has become a popular floral gift. Native to South Africa, the plant is tropical and has an exotic flower that needs humidity and heat. The genus is Strelitzia and the plant can reach 5 feet tall when in a hospitable habitat. The flower has long been a symbol of love and thoughtfulness when given as a gift.
The name stems from the flower, which looks just like a brightly colored bird head complete with a crown of feathers. The flower is often referred to as the plant's "plumage" for this reason. The leaf blades are 6 inches wide and up to 18 inches long, glossy green and attractive. The plant propagates by suckers so it can be invasive if used in the landscape. The plant needs temperatures above 50 F and moist, peaty soil to thrive. Greenhouse growing is a wonderful way to keep the plant in cooler climates.
Bird-of-paradise is native to South America and South Africa but is hardy to zones eight and nine. It will do well in a sunny location in the garden and some species can tolerate a light frost. It does very well and is a common landscape plant in Florida, Southern California and other regions with warm nighttime temperatures.
Strelitzia has several other names. Often called the crane flower for the shape of the flower, it is also known as giant bird-of-paradise and crane lily. It was mistakenly classified as a member of the banana family, Musaceae, giving it the name wild banana. It has since been identified as family Strelitziaceae.
The flower is extremely popular in floral arrangements but the flower usually only lasts a week. It symbolizes joyfulness and paradise. Florists have designated it the ninth anniversary flower. The symbolism generally associated with bird-of-paradise is freedom and good perspective. When a woman gives it to a man it symbolizes faithfulness.
Care of the Bird-of-Paradise
The growing season of the bird-of-paradise is spring through summer. The plant needs to be kept quite moist during this time and an all-purpose fertilizer should be used once a year. Pruning out old leaves and suckers keeps the plant's appearance clean, while flowers can be cut for displays. The crane flower will not flower for six years after it has been propagated, but new plants can be divided from old plants after they have had their first bloom.