It's not hard to guess how the bird of paradise plant, or crane plant, Strelitzia reginae, got its name. From a distance, its colourful electric blue and neon orange flower really does look like the head of an exotic bird. Bird of paradise plant grows wild in South Africa, and is pollinated by birds, too, hence the sturdy leaf stems that can bear the weight of several birds at a time.
The bird of paradise plant is a great choice for bringing a touch of the exotic to a bright, sunny room. Even when not in flower, it's a striking house plant with large, blue-grey, paddle-like leaves on elegant stems. It can reach 2m tall, so the plant needs plenty of space. It's a good choice for a warm conservatory or a bright bathroom, as it needs a humid atmosphere.
In summer, you could put your bird of paradise plant outside, where it will look great as part of an exotic planting scheme in a border. Just plunge it, pot and all, into the soil, in a sunny spot. Move it back indoors before temperatures begin to fall in early autumn.
Bird of paradise is a relatively high maintenance plant, as it needs regular misting and watering in spring and summer. Bear in mind that it's toxic to cats and dogs if ingested.
How to grow a bird of paradise plant
Bird of paradise plant is not hard to grow but it does need specific conditions – warmth, bright light and a humid atmosphere. A south facing room, bathroom or conservatory is ideal. It also needs plenty of room, as the leaves can reach 2m tall. To keep the atmosphere humid, place the pot on a tray of pebbles and water, or mist frequently. Give it as much light as possible. Keep the compost moist in spring and summer but allow it to dry out between waterings in autumn and winter. Wipe the leaves occasionally to keep them dust-free. Repot when roots are visible at the top of the compost.
More on growing bird of paradise:
Growing bird of paradise: jump links
- Where to grow a bird of paradise plant
- How to care for a bird of paradise plant
- How to propagate a bird of paradise plant
- Bird of paradise plant problem-solving
- Advice on buying a bird of paradise plant
- Types of bird of paradise plant to grow
Where to grow a bird of paradise plant
Grow your strelitzia in a warm, bright spot that gets some sunshine early or late in the day. Don't let temperatures fall below 10°C in winter. It needs a humid atmosphere, so a sunny bathroom or conservatory is ideal.
How to plant a bird of paradise plant
Plant in a 3:1 mix of soil based compost (such as John Innes No. 3) and grit. Ensure the pot has drainage holes so excess water can drain away easily.
Caring for a bird of paradise plant
Keep the soil moist (but not soaking wet) from April to September, then gradually reduce watering in autumn and winter, allowing the compost to dry out before watering again. Raise humidity by misting daily or placing on a tray of pebbles and water. Wipe the foliage from time to time to keep it clean and dust free. Feed with a liquid house plant feed every two weeks from April to September. In summer, open the window so plenty of air can circulate around the plant.
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Strelitzias do well when slightly pot bound (their roots are fitting snugly in the pot) so only repot when roots appear at the top of the compost. Plant into a slightly larger pot, in spring. In the meantime, you can replace the top layer of compost with fresh every spring. Strelitzias don't need pruning but you can remove tatty or yellowed leaves in spring, cutting them down to the base of the stem.
How to propagate a bird of paradise plant
You can sow seeds of bird of paradise in early spring, but you'll need to be patient – it might take 10 years for your plant to mature and flower.
A quicker way is to divide a mature plant – lift the plant from its pot and cut the rootball in half. You could also cut away and pot up rooted offsets that have appeared at the base of the main plant.
Growing a bird of paradise: problem solving
No flowers? Be patient – your plant will take three or four years to bloom. Also it will also flower only if given light and plant food, and will flower better if slightly pot bound. Birds of paradise usually flowers in late winter and spring.
Curling leaves could be due to lack of moisture in the compost or not enough humidity. The leaves will also curl if the plant is too cold, or in a spot that gets cold draughts. Curling leaves could also be a sign of a pest problem – see below.
Leaves splitting? This occurs naturally as the leaves mature.
Brown edges on the leaves could be caused by a number of issues – not enough humidity, over watering or too much feeding.
Yellow leaves at the base of the plant are normal – these are just older leaves dying back. Yellow leaves elsewhere are caused by some kind of stress to the plant – lack of light or too much or too little watering.
Stems rotting at the base are an indication that you have overwatered your plant. Repot the plant into fresh compost and take care not to overwater.
You might also spot scale insects on the leaves, which look like raised brown spots. Wipe them off promptly with a cotton wool pad soaked in organic insecticide, or treat the whole plant with an organic insecticide based on fatty acids or plant oils.
Mealybugs can also appear on the leaves – they look like fluffy white lumps. Wipe them off promptly with a cotton wool pad soaked in organic insecticide, or treat the whole plant with an organic insecticide based on fatty acids or plant oils.
Spider mites can also be an issue – look out for fine webbing on your plant. Increasing humidity and air circulation can help prevent this. Red spider mite is hard to control but try an organic insecticide based on plant oils or fatty acids.
Advice on buying a bird of paradise plant
- Bird of paradise is an expensive plant, so make sure you have the right growing conditions for it. It needs plenty of room as it can reach 2m tall
- Make sure you have a warm spot that gets plenty of light (including some sunshine). Be prepared to mist and water regularly in spring and summer
- You may find plants at the garden centre, otherwise buy from a specialist house plant retailer or online
Where to buy a bird of paradise plant online
Bird of paradise varieties to grow
Strelitzia nicolai – also known as the giant white bird of paradise, with white and midnight blue flowers and emerald green leaves. A very large plant.
Height x Spread: 10m x 3.5m
Strelitzia reginae ‘Kirstenbosch Gold’ (syn. ‘Mandela’s Gold’): A rare yellow flowering form, cultivated by Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, South Africa
H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m