You have heard of bird of paradise plants, probably. But did you know that there are different types, which are as different as night and day? In this introductory article, I discuss the best-known type, after which I conclude with a mention of three other plants that share the name.
Jungle-Type Bird of Paradise Plants
If you know bird of paradise plant mainly as a florist's flower, then most likely the type of bird of paradise with which you are familiar is Strelitzia reginae (see picture). A tropical plant indigenous to South Africa, Strelitzia reginae grows in warm, humid climates. Bird of paradise flowers can be grown as perennials in zones 9-11.
This bird of paradise plant has long (ca. 18 inches by 6 inches wide), leathery leaves reminiscent of those on the banana tree (to which it is related). Bird of paradise "flower" rests atop a rigid stalk and is composed of orange sepals and blue petals. The plants grow in clumps and can reach 5 feet in height -- certainly large and showy enough to serve as focal points. Divide the clumps in late spring to early summer for propagation.
Grow Strelitzia bird of paradise in full sun to partial shade and in a well-drained, acidic soil enriched by humus. Care for bird of paradise consists largely in removing dead plant material promptly (as a precaution against fungal attacks), along with proper watering and fertilizing:
Keep the soil moist during the growing season, but water only when the soil is dry during the plant's period of dormancy. Likewise, keep fertilizing to a minimum while bird of paradise plants are dormant, but fertilize copiously with organic fertilizer (e.g., aged cow manure) during the growing season. If you use a synthetic fertilizer, look for something high in nitrogen (as indicated by the NPK number) and follow label instructions.
One of the other Strelitzia bird of paradise plants is Strelitzia nicolai, the white bird of paradise.
On Page 2 we'll look at desert-type bird of paradise plants....