Strelitzia reginae, called bird of paradise, is probably one of the most well-known plants in the world. It is a bold structural plant, which forms large evergreen clumps of stiff leaves growing up from the base. The grey-green banana-like leaves grow about 3 ½ to 4 feet in height and the flowers stand above the foliage at the tips of long stalks. The structure and pollination of the flowers are rather interesting. The hard, beak-like sheath from which the flower emerges, is called the spathe. This is placed at right angles to the stem, which gives it the appearance of a bird’s head. The flowers, which emerge one at a time from the spathe, consist of 3 brilliant orange sepals and 3 bright blue petals. Two of the blue petals are joined together to form an arrow-like nectary. When the birds sit to have a drink of nectar, the petals open to cover their feet with pollen.
Winter hardy to zones 10 to 12, Strelitzia reginae is an easy plant to grow in the garden. Plants do well in full sun to semi-shade, love a rich loamy soil and plenty of water throughout the year. They respond well to regular feeding with a slow release fertilizer and compost. They are, however, very tolerant plants and will thrive in most soils and can survive with very little water once established. The plants are also wind resistant and grow well in coastal gardens. Strelitzias are sensitive to cold and would need a sheltered position in areas with frost, as the flowers and leaves are often damaged by frost. In cold climates, it is better to grow them in pots that can be moved indoors when freezing temperatures are expected.
To grow indoors, pick a well-lit, sunny spot. In the summer months screen against the very bright direct sun. Water plants freely and fertilize regularly in spring and summer. Keep drier in winter months and use a well-drained soil. Bird of paradise need moderate temperatures 55 to 65F at night. When temperatures rise above 70F. outside, place your plant in a semi-shaded location with good air circulation. Remove dead leaves and flowers as they occur.
Garden Uses. The fascinating blooms are sold as cut flowers by the million and used in floral arrangements. Bird of paradise make an excellent container plant for atriums, sunrooms and greenhouses. If you have space to overwinter the large plants, they do well moving from indoors to outdoors for the summer and back inside in the fall. In warmer climates, they are used as street plantings and urban landscapes. Zones 9-11.
The seeds have a hard seed coat that has to be treated, or scarified, in order for water to enter the seeds so that they can sprout.
- To scarify the seeds, nick or sand the seed coat with sandpaper.
- Soak the seed in water for 24 hours.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Put the soil in a pot. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Sow the seeds ½-1 inch deep.
- Water the seeds.
- Place the pots in an area with warm temperatures in full sun or part shade. The seeds are slow to germinate and can take 8 weeks or more to start to grow.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.