Scientific Name: Strelitzia reginae.
Common Names: Bird of paradise, Crane flower.
Plant Type: Perennial evergreen, clump-forming, 4-6 feet high and 4-5 feet wide.
Environment: Perennial evergreen, clump-forming, 4-6 feet high and 4-5 feet wide.
Uses: Widely used in landscaping as an architectural plant and focal point. Provides long-lasting cut flowers.
Other: Native to South Africa from the Eastern Cape Province to KwaZulu-Natal. Stelitzia is named in honor of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, from the house of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The species name reginae is Latin and means 'of the queen'.
The common name, bird of paradise, refers to the flower, which resembles the crested head of a tropical bird. Its orange and blue flowers look like a bird's brilliant plumage. This common name is used here in North America and in England, but in South Africa, where the plant is native, it is commonly known as crane flower. Bird of paradise is probably one of the most recognized cultivated plants in the world. It is abundantly-planted in Southern California and is actually the official floral emblem of the City of Los Angeles. The Strelitzia plant has a bold structure with clumps of stiff, grey-green, banana-like leaves growing up to four feet in height. The flowers reach another couple of feet above the foliage, perched on the tips of long stalks.
The flower structure and pollination biology of the bird of paradise are fascinating. The hard, beak-like sheath from which the flower emerges is called a spathe and is positioned perpendicular to the stem, giving it the appearance of a bird's head and beak atop a long narrow neck, similar to a crane. It conveniently makes a sturdy perch for supporting South African sunbirds, which pollinate the plant. The flowers, which emerge one at a time from the spathe, consist of three brilliant orange sepals and three bright blue petals. Two of the blue petals are joined together to form an arrow-like nectary. When the birds sit to have a drink of nectar, the petals open and cover their feet with pollen. When they visit the next flower the pollen is transferred from the bird's feet to that next flower.
Individual flowers last about one week. The spathe holds five to seven flowers, so the bird of paradise remains showy over a prolonged period. At the Garden it blooms during summer months. Plants do well in full sun to semi-shade and love a rich, loamy soil and plenty of water throughout the year. They can be very tolerant plants once established, however, and can survive with very little water. The plants are also wind resistant and grow well in coastal gardens. They prefer moderate temperatures of 55 to 65ºF at night. Being sensitive to cold, they need a sheltered position in areas with frost, as the flowers and leaves may be damaged. In warmer regions, where daytime temperatures rise above 70ºF outside, plants should be positioned in a semi-shaded location with good air circulation.
Strelitzia reginae is slow-growing and will not bloom until two to five years after germinating from seed. It flowers only when properly established, and division of the plant may affect flowering patterns. There is a yellow-flowered cultivar of this plant known as "Mandela's Gold". Instead of a bird's head of orange and blue feather-like petals, "Mandela's Gold" has flowers mimicking yellow and gold feathers.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Mona Bourell. Photos by Marc Johnson, Mona Bourell, and Joanne Taylor.