Bird of paradise plant: flower, cultivation & propagation

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

It is easy to see where the bird of paradise plant gets its name – its unique flowers look remarkably like exotic birds. This colourful variety of Strelitzia makes a beautiful cut flower.

Bird of paradise flowers
Strelitzia reginae flowers look like the beak of an exotic bird [Photo: Lady_Luck/ Shutterstock.com]

The bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), sometimes referred to as the crane flower or simply strelitzia, is also popular as a houseplant. Bird of paradise plants are easy to propagate and, given the right location and care, can flower all year round. Read on to discover all there is to know about the stunning plants, how to grow them as houseplants, how to propagate them, and more.

Bird of paradise plant: flower, origin and characteristics

Strelitzia is a genus of plant that is made up of five different species, including Strelitzia reginae. These herbaceous, cluster-forming perennials are native to South Africa and can either grow into large, tree-like plants or sometimes form no stem at all.

Bird of paradise plants (Strelitzia reginae) are popular as houseplants because of their gorgeous colourful flowers which look just like an exotic bird’s beak. In its natural habitat, the bird of paradise plant serves as a perch for nectar-eating birds, known as nectarivores, which in turn help pollinate it.

At 80 to 200 cm, this plant reaches quite an impressive size. The leaves can grow up to 50 cm long and look similar to the leaves of banana plants (Musa). Both belong to the same plant order, namely the Zingiberales, commonly known as the ginger and banana order. Bird of paradise plants do not flower until they are between three to six years old. While in nature the plants flower from December to May, in our climates they bloom from April to June. In the right location and with proper care, however, it is possible for these beauties to flower all year round.

Red Heliconia angusta flowers
The flowers of the ‘false’ bird of paradise, Heliconia angusta, look very similar to those of the Strelitzia reginae [Photo: Linda Hughes Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

Fun fact: Strelitzia reginae was named in honour of the British Queen Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, reginae being the Latin word for ‘queen’.

Which plants look similar to the bird of paradise? There are a few plants that are sometimes called bird of paradise flowers and which look quite similar to the Strelitzia reginae plant. Heliconia angusta, for example, also forms similarly exotic, colourful flowers. Due to the similar-looking leaves, strelitzia are also sometimes mistaken for banana plants.

Strelitzia species and varieties

In addition to S. reginae, there are four other species of Strelitzia: S. nicolai, S. alba, S. caudata, and S. juncea. In our latitudes, however, these can only be kept in large greenhouses.

There are also two further, equally as stunning bird of paradise varieties with different coloured flowers:

  • Strelitzia reginae ‘Mandela’s Gold’: This variety produces golden yellow flowers.
  • Strelitzia reginae ‘Red Hot Flame’: Looks very similar to ‘Mandela’s Gold’, but the flower base of this strelitzia is bright red.
Yellow flower of S. Reginae Mandela’s Gold
Some types of birds of paradise cultivars such as Strelitzia reginae ‘Mandela’s Gold’ have striking yellow flowers [Photo: David Steele/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting and growing bird of paradise plants: where, when and how

Bird of paradise plants require a warm location of about 20 to 25 °C and, most importantly, lots of light. It can hardly be bright enough for these plants. They enjoy direct sunlight, so a conservatory or a south-facing window would be ideal. If placed in the shade, they may not produce many flowers, if any at all.

From around the middle of May onwards, after the last risk of frost, you should have no issues placing your bird of paradise plant outdoors. It is, in fact, recommended to do so as the sunlight is much stronger outdoors compared to sunlight from behind window panes. You will, however, need to slowly acclimatise the plant to being outdoors by first placing it in partial shade and later moving it to a sunnier location. As the strelitzia is not winter hardy, do not plant it directly into the ground, but instead place it in a pot or some kind of container. Then in September, once the nights start getting colder, bring the plant back indoors. Bird of paradise plants do not tolerate temperatures below 3 °C well at all. In winter, keep it in as bright a place as possible in temperatures of around 10 to 15 °C.

Many potted bird of paradise plants
Bird of paradise plants can be easily grown and kept in pots [Photo: SariMe/ Shutterstock.com]

When planting your bird of paradise, use a nutrient-rich soil that has good structure. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost, for instance, is a suitable, peat-free option. It is made up entirely of natural ingredients, retains water well, and contains all the essential nutrients to support the formation of flowers. It also contains coconut fibres which create a long-lasting, stable structure. To improve the structure even further, you can mix about 10% expanded clay into the soil.

Plantura Organic Flower Compost
Plantura Organic Flower Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly:
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Before planting, place a drainage layer of coarse material, such as expanded clay or pebbles, at the bottom of a large planter. This allows the water to drain off better and prevents waterlogging. Follow this with a layer of soil. Then carefully place the plant’s root ball on top, fill in all gaps with soil and press everything down firmly. Finally, water the plant.

Tip: Bird of paradise plants have very sensitive roots, so they should only be repotted every three to four years. This also makes it particularly important to use a well-structured soil. These plants also like to be a little root-bound and so, when repotting, they do not need a much larger pot than before as this can actually lead to reduced flowering.

Bird of paradise propagation

There are two ways to propagate a bird of paradise plant. The first and easiest method is propagating by division. This of course requires you to already have a bird of paradise with side shoots. More mature plants often produce rooted side shoots that can easily be taken from the mother plant. The older and larger these side shoots are, the sooner they will flower. As strelitzia should rarely be repotted, plant the side shoots directly into a sufficiently large pot. Place the newly separated plant in partial shade at first and do not fertilise it; this will encourage root growth. After about five weeks you can treat your new bird of paradise like you would the mother plant.

Thick Strelitzia reginae roots
You can propagate bird of paradise plants through division by separating the mother plant at the roots [Photo: theapflueger/ Shutterstock.com]

The second method of propagating strelitzia is by using seeds. However, growing bird of paradise plants from seed is slightly trickier. To start with, germination can take several weeks, sometimes even months, and it can take up to six years for the plant to flower for the first time. Furthermore, bird of paradise seeds can only be purchased in specialist shops, as fruiting is rather unlikely with indoor strelitzias. Bird of paradise seeds are black and are coated in orange hairs, known as the aril, which you need to remove before sowing.

To grow a bird of paradise plant from seed, place the seeds in hot water for one to two days and keep them warm in a thermos flask. This allows the seeds to swell and the aril to be removed more easily afterwards. Fill a few pots with seed sowing soil such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost which is peat-free and low in nutrients to promote healthy root growth in young plants. Press the seeds about 3 cm deep into the soil and keep the soil slightly moist. Germination is best in a bright place and at temperatures of around 21 °C. To ensure high humidity, cover the pots with cling film, but make sure to air them every two days to prevent fungi from forming.

Orange and black Strelitzia seeds
The orange coating around the seed, the so-called ‘aril’, needs to be removed before sowing [Photo: Shulevskyy Volodymyr/ Shutterstock.com]

Is the bird of paradise plant poisonous?

Strelitzia is slightly poisonous to both humans and animals. Avoid ingesting any part of the plant, as there is a risk of gastrointestinal discomfort.

Want to learn how to best take care of your strelitzia? Then check out our article on bird of paradise plant care!

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