Bird of Paradise Care

Background Information

Strelitzia reginae is a species of evergreen tropical herbaceous plant, native to South Africa. Given its own family Strelitziaceae by taxonomists, it is closely related to Heliconia within the order, Zingiberales.  This order of plants is rather interesting, as it contains many plants that are economically important, with the most important being Tumeric (Zingiberaceae), Ginger (Zingiberaceae), and Bananas (Musaceae). Many often mistakenly call these plants the “banana tree” or “banana palm” because they look like banana plants.  While they do bear a resemblance to banana plants (Musa), the foliage is much more stiff than banana foliage, and the flowers are very different.  

This plant’s scientific name commemorates Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen consort and wife of King George III. Queen Charlotte was a patron of the arts and an amateur botanist, and helped to expand Kew Gardens.  This regal plant (hence reginae) is named for the beautiful, orange crane-like flowers that it produces, like birds of paradise.

Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae
Figure 1. The proper way to look at a Bird of Paradise floiwer

The split leaves that give the Bird of Paradise plant it’s bird-like morphology is believed by scientists to be purposeful leaf tearing or lobing of leaves to reduce drag in the wind.  Each leaf along the veins projecting outwards from the midrib has a special connection that allows the leaf to split if enough pressure is applied.  The split is designed to end at the midrib without affecting the plant or cutting off any part of the leaf.  In doing so, they eliminate the risk of being snapped in half by a strong wind.

The plant, like others in the family and related families, has an underground stem (rhizome) by which it grows new clumps (or “plants”).  Similar in structure to a sympodial orchid, each “plant” (which is actually a branch) will terminate in a flower if the meristem is not broken.  As they are rhizomatous plants, they will always make more “plants” by branching their rhizomes, so no need to worry if you accidentally break a terminal bud.  These plants are pretty hardy to most conditions, and their foliage is pretty resistant to all kinds of fungi and bacteria (because of the antimicrobial ginger compounds that the plant produces!)

General Indoor Care

Caring for a Bird of Paradise plant indoors is fun and easy!  It’s one of my (The Plant Doctor’s) most recommended plants.  I think that if you have a window that gets about a half a day or more’s worth of direct sunbeams, then this plant is for you.  They can get tall, so if you have a tall ceiling or floor-to-ceiling windows, then this one’s for you!

Light

Direct sunbeams indoors.  At LEAST a half day’s worth.  More is better.

Water

Watering frequency depends on light levels provided.  Water more often in brighter light and less often in lower light.  Allow soil to completely dry out before watering. Soil should be dry about 2” down before watering again.  When in doubt, feel the soil.  If still in doubt, then wait another day before watering.  Average watering times range from 5-10 days.

Humidity

Does not care, as long as it’s watered properly.

Temperature

65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C).

Common Problems

Not toxic, so pet-friendly.  But, you still don’t want your pet nibbling at your plants; that’s bad behavior. Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets. This plant really doesn’t have many problems with pests except for mites (rare) and mealybugs (more common, but they are so easy to get rid of).

SYMPTOM: Splits along sides of leaves
CAUSE: Normal adaptive precaution to help the plant bear strong winds in its natural habitat

SYMPTOM: Yellowing lower leaves, wet potting mix
CAUSE: Overwatered

SYMPTOM: Wilting, curling leaves, dry potting mix
CAUSE: Thirsty plant, underwatered

SYMPTOM: Plant not growing, maybe leaves turning pale.
CAUSE: Not enough light.  Needs more light to provide the energy to grow.

Other Notes

Under the right conditions, including full, southern light exposure, proper humidity and temperature, Bird of Paradise may flower indoors, although this is rare.  If you put it outdoors for the summertime, and you are diligent about outdoor care for it, then it MAY actually bloom for you!  It’s pretty spectacular when it does bloom, which requires full sun exposure.  Refer to my putting plants outdoor guide (COMING SOON) for what to do with your houseplants outdoors.

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