Cousin to the banana, the distinctive bird of paradise is one of the best known of all the tropical flowers. Who hasn't walked into a swanky hotel or event and seen magnificent table centerpieces built about these remarkable flowers? Surprisingly, the bird of paradise is easier to grow than many tropical plants. The plant is 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.
Bird of Paradise Growing Conditions
Attention to the basics keeps this showpiece in the best health.
- Light: This plant needs bright light, even including some direct sunlight, to bloom well. However, it requires shelter in direct midday summer sun.
- Water: Keep the soil continually moist throughout the year. Bird of paradise prefers high humidity.
- Temperature: Keep the air temperature above 60 F in the winter. This is not a cold-tolerant plant, and it recovers slowly from frost damage.
- Soil: Use rich, well-drained potting mix.
- Fertilizer: Feed in springtime with slow-release pellets or weekly during growing season with liquid fertilizer. This plant is a heavy feeder.
Bird of Paradise is easy to propagate by division of the underground rhizome when you repot.
It can be grown from seed, but the division is so easy, why bother? Divide infrequently because crowded clumps produce the most blooms.
Repotting a Bird of Paradise
These are rapidly growing plants that need to reach a certain size before they'll bloom. Repot 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 7-foot plant usually thrives in a 14-inch pot.
There are five Strelitzia species, but only two are 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 between 12 and 18 inches long, and they can shred when exposed to windy conditions or when brushed in a busy hallway.
S. reginae and S. nicolai are beautiful plants that can be successfully grown inside. The biggest drawbacks are their size—they grow 5 to 6 feet—and the fact that the plants need three to five years before they flower. They 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 waterings and warmth. Feed 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 then brought back inside for winter.