5 Bird of Paradise Varieties

Close-Up Of Day Lily Blooming Outdoors
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Very different species of plants can sometimes share the same common name, and nowhere is this more true than with the flowering plants known as "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.

If you know the bird of paradise mainly as a florist's flower, you're 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 as houseplants elsewhere.

An entirely different genus, Caesalpinia, includes a number of broad-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs that also carry the common name "bird of paradise." The shape of these plants and the appearance of their flowers is starkly different than Strelitzia species. They'e generally desert dwellers.

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

Gardening Tip

Though the Caesalpinia bird of paradise varieties grow well in part shade when planted outdoors, they need as much light as possible when grown as houseplants. A sunny window is ideal, but avoid chilly drafts—they resent temperatures below 50 degrees. If no direct sunlight is available, make sure the artificial light is as bright as possible.

  • 01 of 05

    Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)

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

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    This bird of paradise variety 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, while the flower rests atop a rigid stalk and is composed of orange sepals and blue petals. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the head and crown of an exotic bird, the blooms appear sporadically through the growing season—as many as 25 times per year.

    • Native Area: South Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 10–12; often grown as a houseplant
    • Height: 40–48 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 02 of 05

    White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)

    White strelitzia
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    White bird of paradise is a considerably larger species than most of the Strelitzia genus, with flowers that closely resemble the traditional bird of paradise plant. But it has 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 20 feet; up to 7 feet as a houseplant
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 03 of 05

    Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

    Caesalpinia pulcherrima
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    Plants of the Caesalpinia genus that carry the common name "bird of paradise" are much different than the Strelitzia species. Caesalpinia pulcherrima, sometimes known as "red bird of paradise," "pride of Barbados," or "peacock flower," is a fast-growing, broad-leaved evergreen shrub native to arid regions. It blooms repeatedly with red-orange flowers. At the northern end of its range (zone 9), this bird of paradise plant may be deciduous. Its prickly stems make it useful as a barrier plant. This plant and Caesalpinia species have much smaller flowers than the Strelitzia bird of paradise plants. The blooms somewhat resemble azaleas, appearing in clusters. The red bird of paradise—which prefers a desert-like environment—belongs to the legume (pea) family, which is evident from the shape and arrangement of the leaves.

    • Native Area: Arid regions of tropical Americas
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 10–20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 04 of 05

    Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana)

    Mexican Bird of Paradise
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    Closely related to the red bird of paradise, the Mexican bird of paradise is another broad-leaved evergreen tree but with flowers that tend toward yellow. It has somewhat better cold tolerance that C. pulcherrima, remaining evergreen down to 15 degrees. It blooms repeatedly with clusters of yellow flowers that resemble azaleas, and the leaf shape and seed pods make its membership in the legume family obvious.

    • Native Area: Northern Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 15–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 05 of 05

    Yellow Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii)

    Caesalpinia gilliesii, common name - Bird of Paradise flower
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    Caesalpinia gilliesii, commonly known as "yellow bird of paradise," "poisiana," or "bird of paradise bush," is a shrubbier form of Caesalpinia, which is 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 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