Bird of Paradise Plant Care & Growing Guide
Updated: 06 Nov, 2023
The common name “bird of paradise” is shared by very different species of plants. This is particularly evident in the case of flowering plants. Two distinct plant genera bear this common name, and their similarities are limited. One type of bird of paradise is a small, tropical plant found in jungles, boasting unique exotic flowers. It is a relative of the banana plant. The other type belongs to the pea family and can be either a thorny shrub or a tree that thrives in desert climates.
If you associate the bird of paradise primarily with the flowers you see in floral arrangements, you are likely thinking of the Strelitzia genus. These plants are native to warm, humid regions of South Africa and can be cultivated outdoors as perennials in USDA cold hardiness zones 9–11 or as indoor plants in other areas.
In a completely different genus, Caesalpinia, you’ll find several broad-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs that also go by the name “bird of paradise.” These plants have a markedly different appearance in terms of their shape and flower characteristics compared to Strelitzia species. They are typically found in desert habitats.
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|Bird of paradise, crane flower
|Strelitzia reginae, Strelitzia nicolai
|3.5-6 ft. tall, 3-4 ft. wide
|Full to partial
|Late winter to early spring
|Orange or white
|Africa (South Africa)
|Toxic to pets
Bird of Paradise Care
The Caesalpinia varieties of bird of paradise thrive in partial shade when planted outdoors, but when kept as houseplants, they require abundant light. A sunny window is optimal, but be cautious of cold drafts as they dislike temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If direct sunlight is unavailable, ensure that artificial light is as bright as possible. In very dry conditions, mist the plant.
On the other hand, the Strelitzia bird of paradise varieties can grow quite tall, reaching up to 6 feet in height. As such, they may fare better outdoors in locations with ample light and higher humidity compared to Caesalpinia. When cultivating Strelitzia indoors, maintain both high humidity and a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in your home, and mist the plant frequently if the air is dry.
Here are five distinct species hailing from two unrelated plant genera, all commonly referred to as “bird of paradise.”
For optimal blooming, this plant requires bright light, including some direct sunlight. However, it should be shielded from the intense midday summer sun, which can scorch the leaves of younger plants. A favorable location is in a room with windows facing east or west. Avoid placing it in rooms with only a north-facing window.
Use a nutrient-rich, well-draining potting mix for potted plants, or a blend of compost. If using a pot, ensure it has sufficient drainage holes to allow proper water flow through the soil and out of the container.
Maintain consistently moist soil throughout the year. While it shouldn’t be waterlogged, anticipate daily watering in the spring and summer as the plant loses moisture through its large leaves. You can water until you observe drainage from the pot’s holes, but avoid letting it sit in a pool of water. Overwatering can lead to crunchy brown leaves, while underwatering may cause the outermost leaves to turn yellow.
- Temperature and Humidity:
Bird of paradise thrives in high humidity. Consider keeping a spray bottle nearby to mist it if your indoor environment is dry. During the winter, ensure the air temperature remains above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant is not tolerant of cold temperatures and recovers slowly from frost damage.
This plant is a vigorous feeder. Provide it with slow-release pellets in the spring or feed it weekly during the growing season with liquid fertilizer.
Types of Bird of Paradise
There are five species of Strelitzia, but only two are commonly cultivated as indoor plants: S. reginae (orange bird of paradise) and S. nicolai (white bird of paradise).
Strelitzia reginae ‘Glauca’: This variety has a distinctive powdery grayish foliage and stems.
Strelitzia reginae ‘Humilis’ or ‘Pygmaea’: This orange variety is more compact, reaching a height of only about 3 feet.
Strelitzia reginae ‘Ovata’: This variety is characterized by its rounded leaf blades.
Strelitzia juncea: This unique bird of paradise lacks traditional leaf blades, giving its stems and leaves a reed-like appearance.
Strelitzia caudata: This species can grow up to 25 feet tall and is found in the higher elevations of South Africa. It is also known as the mountain bird of paradise. It produces flowers with white and blue petals and is the rarest and most challenging to acquire.
Propagating Bird of Paradise
The most effective methods for propagating birds of paradise are through division or by sowing seeds. Division is a quicker and simpler process compared to growing from seeds. It is recommended to choose mature plants that have previously bloomed for at least three years. Here’s how to go about dividing a strelitzia plant:
To propagate through division:
Depending on the size of your plant and its rhizome (underground root structure), you may require larger tools such as a shovel and saw for in-ground or larger plants. For smaller plants, a sharp knife can be used. If you plan to pot the division, make sure to have a new pot and a well-draining potting mix on hand.
You can also select new growth or offshoots at the base of the plant that have a minimum of three leaves, and then divide the rhizome below ground using a shovel, saw, or knife.
Repot the divided section in a fresh container with a well-draining potting mix.
How to Grow Bird of Paradise From Seed
When cultivating strelitzia from seeds, exercise patience as germination can take up to two months. To prepare the seeds, soak them in room-temperature water for 24 to 48 hours before planting. Remove any orange stringy material. Make a small nick in the seed with a knife or nail file. Plant the seed in a well-draining potting mix, burying it about 1/2 to 1 inch deep, and ensure there is at least a 3-inch gap between other seeds.
Position the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit). Cover it with a cloche or plastic wrap, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. Once the seedling emerges and develops two to three leaves, transplant it into a 6-inch pot. Once your plant reaches a height of 6 inches, it is ready for a more permanent location.
How to Get Bird of Paradise to Bloom
Getting a Bird of Paradise plant (Strelitzia) to bloom requires some patience and specific care. Here are steps you can take to encourage blooming:
- Age of the Plant: Bird of Paradise plants typically need to reach maturity, which is around four to five years of age, before they are ready to bloom.
- Provide Adequate Light: Ensure your plant receives plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. Place it in a location where it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you’re growing it indoors, a spot near a sunny window is ideal.
- Maintain Consistent Temperature: Bird of Paradise plants prefer temperatures between 65-70°F (18-24°C) during the day and not below 50°F (10°C) at night.
- Pot Size: Keeping the plant slightly pot-bound can help encourage blooming. If the plant is in a container, avoid repotting too frequently.
- Proper Watering: During the growing season (spring and summer), keep the soil evenly moist. Water thoroughly, allowing excess water to drain out. In the fall and winter, allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.
- Fertilize Regularly: Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Feed the plant every 4-6 weeks during the growing season (spring and summer).
- Pruning: Trim away any dead or damaged leaves, but avoid removing healthy ones as they contribute to the plant’s overall health and ability to bloom.
- Be Patient: Sometimes, it may take some time for a Bird of Paradise to bloom, even with optimal care. It’s important to be patient and continue providing the right conditions.
- Avoid Stress: Keep the plant in a stable environment and avoid sudden changes in light, temperature, or humidity, as these can stress the plant and hinder blooming.
- Inspect for Pests and Diseases: Regularly check your plant for signs of pests or diseases. Address any issues promptly to prevent them from inhibiting blooming.
Potting and Repotting Bird of Paradise
The bird of paradise is a fast-growing plant that requires attaining a certain size before it begins to bloom. A bird of paradise standing at 3 to 4 feet tall typically does well in a 10-inch pot. For a larger plant, ranging from 5 to 6 feet, a 14-inch pot is usually the right fit. It’s advisable to repot it every spring into a pot that is one size larger.
Once it reaches maturity, it’s beneficial to allow the plant to become pot-bound, as this encourages blooming. Division can be done after the plant has matured or bloomed at least once, but it should be done sparingly since densely packed clumps tend to produce the most blooms. Keep in mind that repotting can disrupt the natural bloom cycle.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Common pests and plant diseases can be detrimental to the health and vitality of plants. Here are some of the most frequently encountered issues:
- Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects feed on plant sap and can cause leaves to curl or distort. They often secrete a sticky substance called honeydew.
- Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids feed on plant juices and can cause stippling (tiny spots) on leaves. They thrive in dry conditions.
- Whiteflies: These small, flying insects congregate on the undersides of leaves, sucking sap and causing wilting or yellowing.
- Mealybugs: These pests look like small, cottony masses and feed on plant sap. They can cause stunted growth and yellowing leaves.
- Thrips: These slender insects feed on plant tissues, leaving behind silvery streaks on leaves. They can also spread diseases.
- Scale Insects: These immobile pests attach themselves to plant stems and leaves, sucking sap. They often appear as small, raised bumps.
Common Plant Diseases:
- Fungal Diseases: This category includes issues like powdery mildew, which appears as a white, powdery substance on leaves, and various types of leaf spot diseases.
- Bacterial Diseases: Examples include bacterial leaf spot and fire blight. These can cause wilting, spotting, and cankers on plants.
- Viral Diseases: Viruses can cause a range of symptoms, including stunted growth, mosaic patterns on leaves, and distorted or discolored foliage.
- Root Rot: This is often caused by overwatering or poorly draining soil, leading to the deterioration of roots.
- Nematodes: These microscopic worms can attack plant roots, causing stunted growth and yellowing.
- Wilts: Diseases like Verticillium and Fusarium wilt can cause wilting, yellowing, and eventual death of the plant.
Prevention and Management:
- Regular Inspection: Monitor plants for signs of pests or diseases. Early detection allows for quicker intervention.
- Cultural Practices: Proper watering, fertilizing, and maintaining good air circulation can help prevent many issues.
- Natural Predators: Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which feed on pests.
- Quarantine New Plants: Inspect and quarantine new additions to your garden to prevent introducing pests and diseases.
- Pruning and Sanitation: Remove affected plant parts promptly and dispose of them properly to prevent the spread of diseases.
- Natural Remedies and Chemical Treatments: Depending on the severity of the issue, consider using organic or chemical solutions to control pests and diseases.
Remember, it’s important to properly identify the specific pest or disease affecting your plants before implementing a treatment plan. If you’re unsure, seeking advice from a local nursery or extension service can be very helpful.
Common Problems With Bird of Paradise
Strelitzia is a low-maintenance plant that tends to encounter minimal issues. Its main vulnerabilities are root rot and insect infestations, particularly when its ideal conditions are not met. However, by avoiding overwatering, providing proper nourishment, and ensuring ample light and air circulation, most problems can be prevented.
- Wilting or Browning of Leaves:
The most prevalent issue affecting strelitzia is root rot. This occurs when the roots are consistently in contact with water or the soil remains excessively moist for extended periods, allowing a fungus to take hold. To mitigate this, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Another indicator of root rot is a foul odor. In some cases, early detection can lead to successful rescue. To address root rot, carefully remove the root ball, trimming away any blackened or moldy sections of the rhizome, apply a fungicide following the instructions, and replant in a sterilized container with fresh, well-draining soil.
- Curling Leaves:
Curling leaves are a clear indication of underwatering. This issue can be rectified by providing more water and ensuring proper drainage so that water flows freely from the bottom of the pot. Thorough watering ensures that all roots have access to moisture, but be cautious not to let the plant sit in excess water, as saturated soil can lead to other complications.
- Yellowing Leaves:
Yellowing leaves can signal various concerns. Occasional yellowing of a leaf, particularly on a mature plant, may be part of its natural life cycle. However, if numerous leaves start to yellow, it could indicate insufficient humidity, or a need for additional nutrients, or if the yellowed leaves are on the outer part of the plant, it may require more watering. Adjust each of these factors one at a time to address the issue.
- Slits or Breaks in the Leaves:
Given the large size of this plant’s leaves, developing slits or breaks, especially if the plant spends time outdoors, is normal. These slits allow for improved air circulation around the leaves and roots. Wind and breezes play a role in causing these slits. Adequate airflow helps prevent the accumulation of mold and deters pests from settling in.
How often should I water my Bird of Paradise plant?
Water your Bird of Paradise plant thoroughly during the growing season (spring and summer), allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. In the dormant season (fall and winter), reduce watering, letting the soil dry out more.
What is the ideal light requirement for a Bird of Paradise plant?
Bird of Paradise plants thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. They can tolerate some direct sunlight, but prolonged exposure to intense sun may lead to leaf burn.
How can I encourage my Bird of Paradise plant to bloom?
Ensure your plant is at least 4-5 years old, as younger plants may not be mature enough to produce blooms. Keep it slightly pot-bound, provide ample sunlight (at least 6 hours per day), and follow a regular feeding schedule with balanced fertilizer.
What should I do if my Bird of Paradise plant’s leaves are turning yellow?
Yellowing leaves can be a sign of various issues, including underwatering, insufficient humidity, or nutrient deficiencies. Adjust watering, increase humidity, and consider fertilizing if necessary.
Can I grow a Bird of Paradise plant outdoors?
Yes, Bird of Paradise plants can be grown outdoors in regions with a warm climate. They thrive in USDA hardiness zones 10-12. Provide well-draining soil, protection from strong winds, and ensure they receive adequate sunlight.
How do I propagate my Bird of Paradise plant?
Bird of Paradise plants can be propagated through division or by sowing seeds. Division is often the preferred method, and it’s best to do this in the spring when the plant is actively growing.
What are some common pests and diseases that affect Bird of Paradise plants?
Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Diseases such as fungal infections (like powdery mildew) and bacterial leaf spot can also occur.
Why are the leaves of my Bird of Paradise plant curling?
Curling leaves can be a sign of underwatering. Ensure that you’re providing sufficient water, allowing it to drain freely from the bottom of the pot. This ensures all roots have access to water.
The Bird of Paradise plant (Strelitzia) is a striking and resilient addition to any garden or indoor space. With its distinctive foliage and potential for stunning blooms, it has become a favorite among plant enthusiasts. By providing the right conditions, such as adequate light, proper watering, and well-draining soil, you can help your Bird of Paradise thrive.
It’s important to be patient, especially when waiting for the plant to reach maturity and bloom. Regular maintenance, including pruning, monitoring for pests and diseases, and repotting when necessary, will contribute to its overall health and longevity.