5 Different Species of Bird of Paradise Plants

Jungle Species and Desert Species

Strelitzia Reginae flower closeup
Strelitzia reginae TatianaMironenko / Getty Images

Very different species of plants can sometimes share the same common name, and nowhere is this more true than with the flowering plants known "bird of paradise." Species from two entirely different plant genera share this common name, and that's just about the only thing similar about them. One type of bird of paradise plant is a low-growing jungle plant with unique exotic flowers, a relative of the banana plant, while the other type is a member of the pea family, a thorny shrub or tree that loves desert environments.

Bird of Paradise Genera

There are two very different plant genera that comprise species with the common name "bird of paradise." If you know bird of paradise plant mainly as a florist's flower, then you are probably thinking of the Strelitzia genus. These plants, indigenous to warm, humid areas of South Africa, can be grown as outdoor perennials in zones 9–11, or grown as houseplants elsewhere.

An entirely different genus, Caesalpinia, includes a number of broadleaf evergreen trees and shrubs that also carry the common name "bird of paradise." The shape of these plants and the appearance of the flowers is much, much different than the Strelitzia species. These plants are generally desert-dwellers, not jungle plants like those of the Strelitzia genus.

Here are five different species from two disparate plant genera, each commonly known as bird of paradise"plant

Gardening Tip

Though the Caesalpina bird of paradise varieties grow well in part shade when planted outdoors, when grown as potted indoor plants, give them as much light as possible. A sunny window is ideal, but avoid chilly drafts—these plants resent temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If no direct sunlight is available, make sure the artificial light is as bright as possible.

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    Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)

    closeup of bird of paradise plant with orange and blue spiky petals

    Lightlana/Getty Images

     

    This bird of paradise plant has long leathery leaves reminiscent of those on the banana tree (to which it is related). The leaves are stiff clumps that sprout from a ground-level base. The flower rests atop a rigid stalk and is composed of orange sepals and blue petals.The flowers, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the head and crown of an exotic bird, appear sporadically through the growing season—there may be as many as 25 blooms per year.

    Bird of paradise plant can be grown outdoors in tropical climates, but it is often grown as a houseplant where freezing temperatures are a possibility.

    Native Area: South Africa

    USDA Growing Zones: 10–12; often grown as a houseplant

    Height: 40–48 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

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    White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)

    White bird of paradise is a considerably larger species in the Strelitzia genus, with flowers that closely resemble the traditional bird of paradise plant, but with white sepals forming the crown and a bluish-purple "tongue." The large gray-green leaves can easily be confused with its relative, the banana tree.

    Native Area: South Africa

    USDA Growing Zones: 9–11; often grown as a houseplant

    Height: Up to 7 feet as a houseplant; up to 20 feet as a garden plant.

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

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    Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

    Photo of red bird of paradise. A drought-toleran red bird of paradise is common in Arizona and Calif
    Photo of red bird of paradise. A drought-tolerant plant, red bird of paradise is popular in Arizona and California. David Beaulieu

    The plants in the Caesalpinia genus that carry the common name "bird of paradise" are much different plants than the Strelitzia species. Caesalpinia pulcherrima, for example, is sometimes known as "red bird of paradise," though it also known as "pride of barbados" or "peacock flower."

    C. pulcherrima is a fast-growing broadleaf evergreen shrub native to arid regions, which blooms repeatedly with red-orange flowers. At the northern end of its range (zone 9), it may be deciduous. Its prickly stems make it useful as a barrier plant. This plant, and others in the Caesalpinia species have much smaller flowers than the Strelitzia bird of paradise plants. The blooms somewhat resemble azaleas, appearing in clusters. This is a member of the legume (pea) family, which is clearly evident from the shape and arrangement of the leaves. These plants prefer a dryish, desert-like environment.

    Native Area: Arid regions of tropical Americas

    USDA Growing Zones: 9–11

    Height: 10–20 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

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    Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana)

    Closely related to red bird of paradise, this is another broadleaf evergreen tree, but with flowers that tend toward yellow. It has somewhat better cold tolerance that C. pulcherrima, remaining evergreen down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It flowers repeatedly with clusters of yellow flowers that resemble azaleas. The leaf shape and seed pods make its membership in the legume (pea) family quite obvious.

    Native Area: Northern Mexico

    USDA Growing Zones: 8–11

    Height: 15–25 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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    Yellow Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii)

    Finally, there is Caesalpinia gilliesii, commonly known as yellow bird of paradise, poisiana, or bird of paradise bush. This is a shrubbier form of Caesalpinia, evergreen in warmer climates. It has red or yellow azalea-like flowers that bloom in July and August. The fernlike leaves identify it as a member of the legume (pea) family. The seeds expel when the pods dry out; this plant self-seeds very easily, and may escape and naturalize into surrounding areas.

    Native Area: Argentina and Uruguay

    USDA Growing Zones: 9–11

    Height: 7–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

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