Strelitzia Plant Profile (Bird of Paradise)

bird of paradise close up

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

The distinctive bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae or Strelizia nicolai) is one of the best known of all the tropical flowers and is a cousin to the banana. Surprisingly, the bird of paradise is easier to grow than many tropical plants and makes for a vigorous, rapidly growing indoor plant. It can be moved outside in the summer, and in warmer climes, it thrives for half the year outside. Bird of paradise typically flowers in the late winter or early spring, but under optimal conditions, it flowers at other times.

There are five Strelitzia species, but only two are commonly grown as indoor plants: Strelitzia reginae (the orange bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (the white bird of paradise). These plants grow with upright leaves emerging directly from the soil; there is no trunk. The large leaves range from 12 and 18 inches long, and they can shred when exposed to windy conditions or when brushed in a busy hallway.

Botanical Name Strelitzia reginae or Strelitzia nicolai
Common Name Bird of paradise, crane flower, 
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 3.5 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Rich loam
Soil pH Slightly acidic
Bloom Time Late winter to early spring
Flower Color Orange or white
Hardiness Zones 10-12
Native Area South Africa
bird of paradise closeup
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
bird of paradise used in landscaping
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
bird of paradise foliage
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
Home garden with foliage plants
Juliette Wade / Getty Images

How to Grow Bird of Paradise

S. reginae and S. nicolai are beautiful plants that can be successfully grown inside. The biggest drawbacks are their size—they grow to 5 to 6 feet tall—and the fact that the plants need three to five years before they flower. They also work well in massed plantings outside or as specimen plants in warm climates, where their flowers rise above the foliage for an impressive display.

The trick to successful growth indoors is providing lots of bright light with some direct sun, regular watering, and warmth. Feed the plant with compost early in spring before new growth begins, and then fertilize every week or so during the growing season. For the best chance of survival, grow the plant in a container that can be moved outside in warm summer months and brought back inside for winter.

To bring the plant to bloom once it is four to five years old, keep it pot-bound. Give it plenty of sun and feed it on schedule. Note: The plant is mildly toxic to dogs, cats, and people, but it takes eating quite a bit of it to have an effect.

Light

This plant needs bright light, including some direct sunlight, to bloom well. However, it requires shielding in direct midday summer sun, which can burn the leaves of younger plants. A good position is in a room with windows facing east or west. Avoid rooms with only a north-facing window.

Soil

Use rich, well-drained potting mix for potted plants.

Water

Keep the soil continually moist throughout the year. While it should not be waterlogged, expect to water it daily in the spring and summer as it loses moisture through its big leaves. If overwatered, the plant will develop crunchy brown leaves. If underwatered, the leaves farthest from the center will turn yellow.

Temperature and Humidity

Bird of paradise prefers high humidity. You might want to keep a spray bottle handy to mist it if your home is dry. Keep the air temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. This is not a cold-tolerant plant, and it recovers slowly from frost damage.

Fertilizer

This plant is a heavy feeder. Feed it in the springtime with slow-release pellets or weekly during the growing season with liquid fertilizer.

Potting and Repotting

Bird of paradise is a rapidly-growing plant that needs to reach a certain size before it will bloom. Repot it every spring into a somewhat larger pot. A bird of paradise that is 3 to 4 feet tall grows well in a 10-inch pot. A 5- to 6-foot plant usually thrives in a 14-inch pot. Once it reaches maturity, you will want it to be pot-bound so it will bloom. If you repot it, you will disrupt the bloom cycle.

Propagating Bird of Paradise

Bird of paradise is easy to propagate by dividing the underground rhizome when you repot it. Separate a shoot with at least three leaves. It can also be grown from seed, but division is easier, as it can take months for the seeds to germinate. Divide infrequently because crowded clumps produce the most blooms.

Common Pests and Diseases

Monitor the plant for aphids, scale, and mites. If you see them, use insecticidal soap for control, but be sure to apply it to the undersides of the leaves. Bird of paradise is also susceptible to Botrytis cinerea (gray mold). Flowers and leaves with this condition will develop dark spots followed by a layer of gray mold. Remove the affected parts of the plant and give your plant regular airing.