What is a Bird of Paradise plant?
Looking like one of the many fabulous birds of tropical Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the flamboyant flowers of the bird of paradise (Strelitzia spp, also called crane flowers) come in a shock of orange, yellow, blue and red against the from the tall, dense, grey-green or blue-green leaves.
The flower structure is one of the most unusual in the plant kingdom. The base of the flower, which is shaped like a boat or a canoe and looks like the beak of a crane bird, is the bract, or modified leaf. Out of this emerges two erect points that are the petals, surrounded by a fan of sepals (the petals’ protector), making the flower look like a bird’s spectacular plumage. Sometimes the bract will produce more than one flower.
How many types of Bird of Paradise are there?
There are three types of this South African native grown in Australia, and what makes them different are the shapes of their leaves. Strelitzia reginae has leaves that look like boat paddles, S. nicolai has leaves like a banana tree, while the leaves of S. juncea are curled around the stem so they look like skinny sticks.
You can have a bird of paradise whatever your garden situation. Here’s how you choose.
1. Strelitzia reginae
This looks stunning as a feature plant in a structural landscape, such as part of a rockery, or by a swimming pool where, if you have the space, you can plant a mass of them so they line the length of the pool closest to your boundary. A bonus is that the leaves won’t fall into your pool water.
It needs plenty of room because it grows in a clump about 1m wide. The stems grow up to 2m, and the leaves are about 20cm long and 15cm wide.
It produces its stunning flowers most of the year – but especially so in winter - when conditions are perfect, which are a warm climate, a sunny spot with protection from midday sun, no frost, a rich, acidic, free-draining soil and plenty of water, although it is very hardy and can survive extended dry periods.
The bract is green, often with touches of red or yellow while the petals and sepals are brilliant orange or red with a bright blue ‘tongue’.
Plant in rich, acidic, free-draining soil, water when required and give it slow-release fertiliser in spring and summer.
You can also grow it in a pot in your home or office where it will add a dramatic, sculptural element to your interiors.
You’ll need a large pot, at least 400mm wide, because it has a large root system. Fill the pot with quality potting mix and place it in a well-lit spot. Feed it fortnightly in spring and summer with liquid plant food, and water regularly. Also dust and wash the leaves regularly with a soft cloth.
2. Strelitzia nicolai
This is known as the giant bird of paradise because it can grow into a tree with multiple stems. Give it some space and it will return the favour with loads of drama. It’s tall banana-like leaves flutter in the breeze and create a true tropical effect. The flower bract is dark blue and the petals and sepals are white, often with tinges of paler blue or deep pink.
It doesn’t like frost or strong winds, but otherwise is very hardy. Plant in rich, acidic, free-draining soil, water when required and give it slow-release fertiliser in spring and summer.
3. Strelitzia juncea
When young, the leaves of S. juncea look like the broad ‘paddles’ of S. reginae but, as it matures, the leaves shrink until the stems look rush-like and quite striking. It’s also a much smaller plant, growing only to about 1.5m, and it’s slower growing, taking about three years to flower.The flowers are similar in colour to S. reginae, but a bit smaller.
If your garden is small, or you have just a courtyard, but long for a tropical theme, this is perfect. You can even grow them in pots. It’s really hardy and tolerates hot summers and very mild frosts. Plant in rich, acidic, free-draining soil, water when required and give it slow release fertiliser in spring and summer.
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