Strelizia Regina – Bird of Paradise

bird of paradise flower up close

The bird of paradise flower, Strelitzia regina, is native to the deep, rich soil along the Gamtoos and Kowie rivers in South Africa.

There it gets all the shelter, sun and moisture it needs, and the secret of growing it in this country is to duplicate those conditions as far as possible.

The plant was introduced into England in 1773, where it is not easy to grow. It was not until the 1930’s that California got around to growing it as a garden subject.

Paradise Beyond Southern California

The Bird of Paradise pushed out its southern California horizons and has been grown in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys as well as up around San Francisco

In the valleys it will stand 22 degrees F., but it must have a well protected spot and at best it is not as happy there as it is nearer the coast.

While it grows fairly comfortably in the San Francisco Bay area, it is not as much at home there as it is in the well-watered gardens of southern California.

But wherever it is grown, it stubbornly insists on deep rich heavy loam<, sun, shelter and lots of water during the hot days. Strelitzia regina is a slow grower, especially where the winters are cool, for its enormous fleshy roots must be well developed before it will bloom. I found this out when I sowed my first batch of seed in a deep box without a bottom set on the ground. The fresh seed germinated at almost 100 per cent, but because I was away much of the time I delayed transplanting for two years. When I tried to move the plants I found thick fleshy roots had gone so deep and were so entangled that I offered to give the whole lot to anyone who would dig them out. I soon got rid of them.

Bird of Paradise Plant Care Requires Plenty Of Space

Although a Strelitzia regina plant that has been given plenty of space can be successfully moved if the job is done very carefully, it is much wiser to place it at the beginning in the spot where it is to remain. The same holds true for its cousin the white bird of paradise plant.

Choose a location where there is ample room, for when all its wants are satisfied it will grow 5 feet tall and almost as wide. In north coastal San Diego county, a gardener’s paradise, I have seen plants 6 feet tall and as much across bearing over 30 flower heads each.

Although Strelitzia regina must have sun and heat, they should not be placed directly against a white wall, for then the rich hue of the petals soon fades and, though well watered, the beautiful leaves may curl and go brown on the edges.

Planting Bird of Paradise

When planting, dig the hole 3 feet across, and if the subsoil is hard it should be removed to a depth of 3 feet and rich heavy loam, mixed with a few spadesful of old cow manure, put in its place. Remember, the bird of paradise flower has a large appetite.

Nursery grown Strelitzia regina plants are to be had in 3-gallon and 7-gallon pots and may be moved any time of the year as long as the plants are not allowed to dry out. If the 3-gallon size is used, be sure to select plants whose root systems have not become crowded or curled.

If the strelitzia is grown as a tub plant, the container must be very large and there should be frequent applications of liquid food.

Even then, however, the plant usually will not bloom as well as it would in the ground. The flower stem develops in the leaf stem, a few inches from the , ground, so when removing yellowing, tired-looking leaves, be sure to cut above any flower stem juncture.

large clumps of Strelizia regina growing

In Africa the strelitzia is pollinated by the long billed sugar bird. Although on the West Coast the humming bird does his busy best, he apparently can’t quite make it, and so if we demand seed from our plants we must hand pollinate them.

Bird of Paradise Blooming Period

The blooming period is from November to early summer. The naked flower stalk ends in a pointed scarlet-edged spathe which encloses from six to twelve buds; these develop one after another, the new flower pushing the old one out of the way.

The sticky nectar, which attracts the pollinating agent, can be seen oozing out of the blue, hooded tongue into which the sugar bird, if on hand, would poke his bill.

The crane-like appearance of the spathe on its tall stalk gave the strelitzia its African common name of craneplant. Californians, however, have named it bird of paradise flower, forgetting, apparently, that this name belongs by right to Poinciana gilliesi, a pretty shrub much grown in early California gardens and still seen around some old houses.

Pest On Bird of Paradise

Mealybug and plant scale are the principal pests. Neem oil, Malathion or other good mhealybug sprays will keep these in check in the greenhouse. Hand sponging of the leaves may be substituted in the house.

No New Leaves?

Question: I have a Bird of Paradise plant which has not put out a new leaf in the four months I’ve had it. Could you give me cultural directions? – JH, New Orleans, LA.

Answer: The Bird of Paradise plant has a resting period and that may be the reason why your plant has not made a new leaf since you’ve had it.

It needs a rather rich loamy soil and plenty of water during summer when growth is most active. It prefers sun and is likely to flower best when the roots are confined in a comparatively small container.

Image: cryon

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