Strelitzia

Strelitzia reginae is commonly known as the bird of paradise flower. This south African native has glaucous banana-like leaves and bright architectural flowers. It makes a striking addition to your conservatory.

Strelitzia reginae RHS/Mike Sleigh

Quick facts

Common name Bird of paradise
Botanical name Strelizia reginae
Group Conservatory, greenhouse, herbaceous perennial
Flowering time Spring and winter
Planting time Re-pot in spring
Height and spread 1-1.5m(3¼ft-5ft) by 50cm-1m (20in-3¼ft)
Aspect Sunny
Hardiness Frost tender
Difficulty Moderate

Cultivation notes

General care 

  • Strelitzia reginae is not hardy and requires a minimum winter night temperature of 10-12°C (50-54°F)
  • They also prefer a humid atmosphere, which is why they tend to thrive and flower well in conservatories and glasshouses. They rarely perform well as houseplants, as the atmosphere tends to be too dry
  • Plants benefit from ventilation once the temperature reaches 20°C (68°F) and above, or better still place them outside for the summer
  • They can be planted outside in a well-drained soil; however they must be bought in before the frosts
  • Although any good potting medium should be suitable, loam based compost such as John Innes No 3 with added grit to improve the drainage are often easier to manage 
  • Top dress containers, removing and replacing the top 5cm (2ins) of potting media, once a year and then re-pot about every second year or so, taking care not to overly damage the fleshy roots

Watering

They require regular watering during spring and summer to maintain constant moisture, without saturating the potting media; this should be then gradually reduced during the autumn. From the end of November the root zone should be allowed to become fairly dry between watering. These plants require regular feeding during growing season (April until September in Britain). Apply a liquid feed, sold for using on houseplants, fortnightly.

Pruning and training

No pruning is needed, but you can tidy up the plant by cutting off spent, old tatty leaves in the spring. These should be taken back right down to the base with a sharp pair of secateurs.

Propagation

Strelitzias can be grown from seed, however, it does require a lot of patience.

  1. Sow the seed in March or April.
  2. The seed has a really thick coat and if you sow it without any preparation you could be waiting a long time.
  3. Two weeks before sowing remove the orange tufts from the seed and place in a plastic bag with a hand full of fresh compost. Keep this in the fridge for two weeks.
  4. Before you sow, soak them for a few hours in luke warm water and then nick with a knife or scratch with sandpaper the seed coat, to further speed up germination.
  5. Sow the seeds in any good seed compost including John Innes Seed Compost, giving each seed a good spacing of 2.5cm (1in). Place in a bottom heated-propagator, at temperatures of 18-21°C (65-70°F).
  6. Water to keep the soil just moist and remember to air the propagator daily.
  7. Germination should take about four to eight weeks.
  8. Prick out and pot on into individual pots using John innes No 3 with added grit, or other free draining potting medium, when the seedling are of a good size and have two to three leaves.
  9. Flowering can take up to 10 years from this stage.

Propagation from division should produce flower plants much more quickly. This can be done by dividing mature plants or removing rooted suckers and offsets in late February and March.

Cultivar Selection

Strelitzia reginae ‘Kirstenbosch Gold’ (syn. ‘Mandela’s Gold’): This is a rare yellow flowering form that was cultivated and released into the trade by Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, south Africa. Height 1.5m (4ft) Spread: 1.5 (4ft)

S. nicolai: Known as the giant white bird of paradise, which reaches giant heights and is only suitable for a conservatory Height: 10m (33ft) spread: 3.5m (12ft)

S. alba: The blooms are completely white as the name suggests and lack the blue flash found on other species. Height 10m (33ft) Spread: 3.5m (12ft)

Links

RHS Find a Plant
RHS Trials

Problems

Leaf browning and lack of flowering Slow growth, browning of leaf-tips and edges, leaf deformities and failure to flower are all signs that the growing conditions are not suitable. Check that there is suitable humidity and that the plant has been regularly watered and fed.

Leaf shredding When growing specimens outside ensure that they are placed in a sheltered spot. In a windy site the leaves will become shredded and tatty. 

Pests Strelitzia’s suffer from the typical glasshouse pests including scale insect, glasshouse red spider mite and mealybug. There are plenty of places for these pests to hide within the crown and the leaf axils, so regularly check for them.

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