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Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae): Home

Strelitzia reginae flower at NYBG; photo by Ivo Vermeulen
(Strelitzia reginae) flower in the Haupt Conservatory at NYBG; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

Bird of paradise

An important factor in determining the suitability of a plant to your home and envisioning the care it will need, is to know the origin of the plant. Plants that are native to desert regions will require substantial amounts of sunlight and loose, fast-draining soil. Plants from the floor of a rainforest will need some protection from strong sunlight and generous humidity.

Strelitzia reginae (syn. S. regalis, common names, bird of paradise, crane flower or crane lily is a species popularly grown in a pot or tub. Part of the Musaceae (Banana) family or placed in the strelitzia family Strelitziaceae, is a native to South Africa. The name Strelitzia honors Queen Charlotte Sophia, Duchess of Mechlenburg-Strelitz, wife of England's King George III.

Strelitzias are clump-forming plants, evergreen, herbaceous or woody-trunked perennial with fans of two-ranked, often slightly glaucus, bluish-green leaves that have undivided blades or, in one variety, are often bladeless. The flowers are grouped in unusual, structured heads of a striking display. These are often called flowers, but actually each consists of several blooms that open in succession from the top of a large, stiff, pointed, boat shaped spathe consisting of one or two bracts. The bisexual blooms are very asymmetrical, having three long-pointed conspicuously displayed, narrowly lanceolate, separate sepals, and three petals, two of which are joined to form an arrow-shaped tongue and one of which is smaller. The five stamens and three-branched style lie in a groove of the tongue. The fruits are many-seeded capsules. Commonly called the bird of paradise is trunkless. The paddle-shaped leaves, with blades 9 inches to 1 1/2 ft. long by 4 to 6 inches wide, rise from the rhizomes to a height of 1 1/2 to 4 feet or even more. Equaled by the rather stiff flowering stalks, each topped by a head of bloom that suggests a large, flamboyantly colored tropical bird. Head and beak are represented by the often red-edged, green spathe, sprouting from the top, like a cockatoo crest, brilliant orange-yellow sepals and rich purple-blue petals, both measuring 3 inches long, with the entire structure extending from 6-8 inches long. Strelitzia reginae species is variable and several varieties are named, including S. r. humilis, which is more dwarf than the typical. Another cultivated Strelitzia, S. nicolai can grow a 25 ft. high trunk with 6-foot-long leaves fanned from its upper part able to reach even higher. Blue and white flowers arise from big reddish spathes. The short-stalked flower heads nestle in axils of the upper leaves. S. alba and S. reginae, may have a trunk growing up to 5 ft. high, but only to 3-4 ft. when grown in a pot or tub, producing flowers that have pale yellow sepals and petals of lilac-pink markings. Sources of long-lasting showy cut blooms are the lower-growing, yellow-and-blue flowered kinds. Without favorable conditions, grown as a houseplant and accommodated in a large container, they are unlikely to vigorously produce blooms in the long haul.


As a container plant, provide deep, loamy, well-drained fertile soil with moisture holding capability, but not staying wet for too long, so well-drained. Grow in bright full sunlight. Give generous applications of a dilute liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the active growth period.


Inadequate light will not produce flowers, so provide three to four hours of direct sunlight such as in a southern window exposure daily. Indoors, during summertime protect the plant from mid-day direct sunlight deterring sunburn. If placed outdoors during summer move to a bright semi-shaded area to protect from overly hot sun-drenched conditions when temperatures rise above 70 degrees. Remove faded foliage and flowers as needed.


It is time to water when the top inch of the potting mixture goes to dry check with your handy finger(s). Use tepid water moistening the entire potting mixture thoroughly throughout. Water early in the day not at night. In the slow growth period of fall and winter, give only enough water to keep the plant from drying out completely, so less frequency of watering.


During active growth period normal room temperatures 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night are agreeable for the plant. They do need a long cool rest period during fall and winter months with temperature around 50-55 degrees F.


Young plants are best repotted during spring using a soil-based potting mixture, consisting of one-part sterilized soil, one-part peat moss, and one- part perlite or horticultural sand or use a regular peat-based potting mixture. Repot a young plant into a container one or two sizes larger in spring. Thereafter, top-dress the plant skipping repotting. Topdressing is just removing the old spent topsoil (about an inch or so) replacing with a fresh potting mixture.


During active growth, provide a standard or an organic liquid fertilizer every two weeks. No fertilizer is needed during fall and winter. 


Division of an older plant to produce more plants is practiced during spring. This is done by dividing old, overcrowded clumps or by separating carefully, a section with two or three leaves with some healthy roots attached from the mature plant. Pot up the small divisions into a 5- or 6-inch container filled with a peat-based mixture, and place in a warm spot with bright filtered light without direct sunlight for 6 weeks. During this time water sparingly, allowing a full half of the potting soil to dry between waterings. After 6 weeks, treat young plants like mature plants. Flowering usually happens in two- or three-years' time.

What to Watch for:

If favorable conditions are not met, along with not growing in a large enough container, specimens will not thrive and flower vigorously. Also, watch out for scale insects under the leaves and along the midrib from time to time as they can become an ongoing problem. If found clean off with a damp paper towel dipped in a very dilute soapy water, check periodically to control easily. 

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