Name: bird of paradise, strelitzia , crane flower, bird's tongue flower (Strelitzia reginae).
Plant type: clumping perennial.
Height: to around 1.2m tall by 2–3m wide with age
Foliage: similar to a small banana leaf but on a stem, very rigid, green to grey-blue.
Climate: tropics, sub-tropics, warm temperate and sheltered areas of cold temperate.
Soil: light, free-draining with additional compost at planting time.
Position: warm and sunny with protection from harsh or cold winds, will tolerate some shade.
Flowering and fruiting: instantly recognisable bird's head–like flowers are carried on long, leafless stems. The plumes are vibrant orange and electric blue–violet. Appear in April to November, but can spot-flower randomly.
Feeding: annual application of controlled-release fertiliser.
Watering: must have reliable moisture during hot, dry weather.
Are you looking for a plant that give you the most amazing results even if it's all but neglected? Then the bird of paradise is the plant for you! It will happily flower away with very little attention and care. It has an enormous amount going for it beyond just being easy-care – it makes a brilliant landscape addition thanks to its bold foliage, it does superbly well in pots, and the flowers are just breathtaking. A favourite with florists, they will last for weeks on the plant or in the vase, and can only be described as stunning.
Older plants will form a large clump, with the central leaves being held very upright while the outer leaves gently bow down. The foliage is distinctly tropical-looking, semi-glossy above, green-grey below with large banana leaf or paddle-like blades. The actual leaf blade will be up to 50cm long by 20cm wide. From a distance a clump may look all leaf, but on closer inspection you'll see that the leaf blade is on a stem that's around 50cm to 1m in length.
The flowers are just stunning. Held on tall, leafless stems to just above the foliage, they sport upwardly fanned plumes in vivid tropical hues of oranges and blues. The body of the flower is almost tubular and pointed, giving the whole structure the appearance of a colourful bird's head. The blooms all point in random directions so a large plant in bloom looks for all the world like a flock of long-necked birds looking quizzically in every direction.
There are number of species of strelitzia so make sure you select the right one for your needs:
Bird of paradise can be grown for a variety of uses, including:
Bird of paradise likes full sun, but it's not unusual to see them performing well in shadier spots. The best position for flowering is in full sun. In shadier spots flower will be fewer, but larger.
A warm and sheltered aspect is best, especially in cooler regions. Bird of paradise is happy in most free-draining soils, but it prefers quality soil.
1. Open up a planting hole at least twice the size of the pot.
2. Blend in some quality compost or composted manure and add a controlled-release fertiliser.
3. In pots, use a premium-quality potting mix.
You'll often find strelitzias described as drought or dry tolerant. While they are very hardy, younger plants in particular will suffer if they don't receive adequate water. During hot and dry times ensure that they are well watered. Water use can be minimised by keeping plants well-mulched.
Although not essential, annual applications of a controlled-release fertiliser will improve performance. Also consider side-dressing with some well-composted cow manure when you top the mulch up every year.
To prolong the life of a flower, as the petals (the purple-blue parts of the flower) and sepals (the orange part) wither, gently pull the cluster towards the stalk-end of the flower. It will come free and a new set will arise from the head. This can often be repeated a few times.
Pruning is not required beyond removing dead or damaged leaves and flower stalks once they have finished.
Bird of paradise is widely considered to be pest and disease-free.
Liriope: a brilliant border and feature plant that will complement your strelitzia.
Agave: looking for another awesome and hardy feature plant? Check out the agave.
Clumping bamboo: grow it alone or as a hedge or screen; clumping bamboo makes a brilliant backdrop planting.
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