Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Bird of Paradise - Unusual and Attractive
Bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) is a native of south Africa and one of the most unusual and attractive members of the banana family ( Musaceae). This popular plant bears a unique flower which resembles a brightly colored bird in flight, giving it the common name bird-of-paradise. It makes an exceptionally attractive landscape plant in south and central Florida.
In contrast to the banana, the bird-of-paradise is trunkless. The foliage resembles small banana leaves but has long petioles. Leaves are thick, waxy, and glossy green, making it a very attractive ornamental. The plant usually reaches a height of 4 feet.
The inflorescence or flower is most unusual. It consists of a series of highly colored bracts, or modified leaves, are formed into green, red, and/or purplish canoe-like structures. Each bract contains two or more protruding florets of bright yellow or orange elongated petals and a bright blue tongue. The female part of the flower is the long extension of the blue tongue which is extended well away from the stamens.
The blooming season lasts from September through May. Healthy, mature plants can produce as many as three dozen flower spikes, which will last up to two weeks when cut.
Bird-of-paradise thrives in most soils, but does best in rich loamy soils with good drainage. For good flower production, place plants in sunny or partially shaded locations. Plants grown in partial shade will be taller and have somewhat larger flowers. In full sun, plants are smaller and flowers are on shorter stems.
Bird-of-paradise tends to produce more flowers along the periphery of the plant. Thus, spacing the plants at least 6 feet apart will allow adequate space for flowering.
The planting hole should be dug 2 to three times the diameter of the root ball and as deep as the root ball is tall. Where the soil is compacted or poorly drained, consider planting on a mound. A plant installed this way may require more irrigation but is less likely to suffer from drainage problems.
Success often depends on whether the plants receive adequate moisture. Liberal watering during the growing season will encourage plants to grow more profusely and ensure a large crop of flowers during the blooming season. To aid in proper watering, construct a saucer-like basin around the plant from the extra backfill soil. This will hold water until it drains down to the plant's roots. A soggy soil with poor drainage, or insufficient watering, will cause leaves to yellow and eventually die. During the winter months, plants should be watered only when the soil is fairly dry.
Mulch placed around the base of the plants will help conserve moisture, stabilize root temperature, and reduce weed infestations. Mulches against the stem of plants may increase the chance of stem rots.
For best growth and flowering, bird-of-paradise requires fertilization. Apply slow release fertilizers at a rate of three to five pounds per 100 square feet of bed area and 6-6-6 at the rate of two pounds per 100 square feet of bed area. Spread fertilizer around plants every three months during the growing season. Addition of minor elements is recommended on high pH soils.
At least once a year, preferably during summer, remove dead leaves and old flower stalks to prevent fungal organisms from building up on dead tissue.
Although the bird-of-paradise is a tropical plant, it will tolerate temperatures as low as 24°F for a short time. However, temperatures at freezing or below may damage developing flower buds and flowers.
Obtaining a mature flowering bird-of-paradise
plant from seed requires three to five years. The black seeds have orange
fuzz on one end and are the size of sweet pea seeds. Because they have
hard seed coats, seeds must be scarified (nicked or scratched) before they
Sow seeds in vermiculite, a one-to-one volume mix of peat and perlite, or a ready-made mix, to a depth of one-half inch. The soil mix should be kept damp and not allowed to dry out.
The bird-of-paradise can also be propagated by
division. This method requires only one to two years before the plants
reach maturity and flower. For best results, divide clumps during late
spring or early summer. Dig up and separate old clumps, dividing those
with four to five shoots into single-stem divisions. Remove dead leaves
and roots and wash the roots. To prevent disease
and insect carryover, soak divisions in a 1:10 dilution of bleach for ten minutes before planting.
Plant divisions at the same soil depth at which they had been previously grown. Keep the soil moist until roots are established, then begin fertilizing. Divisions usually require at least three months to generate new roots.
The bird-of-paradise is relatively pest free. Occasionally, you may need to spray plants for aphids or caterpillars, which damage foliage. Scale insects and snails occasionally may pose a problem. Fungal leaf spots may appear when plants are watered in the evening.
The bird-of-paradise is interesting and unusual exotic specimen that just might have a place in your garden. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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