Birds-of-Paradise are a striking, evergreen genus of plants that are commonly grown as houseplants outside of tropical and subtropical climates. They are known for their flamboyant blooms that resemble exotic tropical birds.
Named for the birds they resemble, these plants are tolerant of varying soil and care conditions and make a statement wherever they are planted. Let’s take a look at these fascinating plants and how to take care of your very own Bird-of-Paradise plant.
Birds-of-Paradise are stunning, tropical-like houseplants known for their vibrant, bird-like blooms.
The S. reginae species was introduced to Britain in 1773 and brought to the Kew Gardens. It was first described in 1788 by English botanist Joseph Banks and given its botanical name, which means ‘of the queen,’ to pay tribute to Queen Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz.
The plant became highly popular as an ornamental, making its way to Australia and the Americas. It is common in California and has been named the Official Flower of the City of Los Angeles.
The beauty of the plant, paired with its ease of care, has made it a favorite among plant lovers. It has also won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Birds-of-Paradise, originally native to southern Africa, is now widely cultivated globally.
This fascinating plant is originally native to tropical and subtropical regions of southern Africa. They are most often found in coastal areas and along riverbanks, among other shrubs. Several species of the plant have been widely cultivated around the world.
Birds-of-paradise are now naturalized throughout the tropical Americas and in Portugal. They are so popular in Portugal that they have been named the national flower, even though they are not originally native to this region.
They are recognized for their vibrant, bird-like flowers and lush, clumping foliage.
Once classified in the banana family because of its similar leaf formation, birds-of-paradise now have their own genus and are members of the Strelitziaceae family, in the order of Zingiberales, so it is a distant relation to ginger plants. The family, which is a group of monocots, also encompasses Heloconiaceae.
The bold, evergreen leaves of Strelitzia plants grow in clumps, joining at the base of the plant and fanning outward as they grow taller. The plants grow from underground rhizomes, much like their relatives in the ginger family.
Perhaps most noteworthy of this plant are its flowers, which resemble exotic birds with their wings fanned out behind them. The colors are most commonly orange and blue, although species outside of S. reginae can have flowers that are different colors, such as purple and white.
Birds-of-paradise thrive as ornamental plants, popular for outdoor landscaping in warmer climates.
Birds-of-paradise are grown predominantly as ornamental plants. In tropical and subtropical climates, they are often used as focal points and architectural elements in outdoor landscaping. It can be an imposing and exotic garden element with a height and spread of up to six feet.
Outside zones 9-11, these plants are typically grown as container plants and brought indoors in the winter or exclusively as houseplants.
They are low maintenance as houseplants, as long as you have a space that gets plenty of sunlight, although they are toxic to humans and animals, so keep them out of reach of pets and small children.
Where to Buy Bird of Paradise Plants
Due to its popularity, Strelitzia regina, the common bird-of-paradise, is widely available in nurseries and stores.
It is easy to find the Strelitzia regina species of bird-of-paradise. They can be purchased in most nurseries, home improvement stores, and other places selling houseplants or landscaping elements. Because they are easy to care for, they are quite popular.
Other species may be more difficult to obtain, but with the internet, most rare plants are much more accessible than just a decade ago. Without the plant’s availability, rhizomes are easy to obtain and inexpensive to ship.
They need ample space to grow, requiring about six feet of room from other plants.
Birds-of-paradise need room to grow and spread out in the garden. If you are planting your bird-of-paradise outdoors, give it about six feet of space from surrounding plants. The rhizomes will spread, forming a clump, so the plant and its offsets could grow much wider than a single plant’s six-foot spread.
Plant in a space that gets at least six hours of sun per day and has excellent drainage, as the roots will be susceptible to rot if left in standing water. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball but only as deep. Planting one of these in a too-deep hole may delay flowering.
How to Grow
As a houseplant, bird-of-paradise is a low-maintenance plant that provides a lot of visual appeal with minimal attention. In the garden, it is quite easy to care for, provided that it gets adequate sunlight and has the proper soil conditions.
Outdoor or indoor, bird-of-paradise plants thrive with at least six hours of direct sunlight.
The amount of sun your plant will require depends strongly on the climate. As a houseplant, bird-of-paradise plants can survive for brief periods of partial sun, but realistically, if you want your plant to flourish, it will need at least six hours of direct sunlight. With sufficient light, there is a chance that your plant will flower indoors.
As a garden plant, birds of paradise only grow in a narrow range. However, there are disparities between tropical zone 11 and subtropical zone 9, which should be addressed. For the most part, this is a full-sun plant. However, in very hot climates, afternoon shade can save your plant from sunburned leaves.
If you are planting your bird of paradise outdoors, the best light option is to have it in full sun for most of the morning. If you plan to place this plant in partial shade, the shade should be later in the day.
Indoor bird-of-paradise plants need watering every 1-2 weeks.
As a houseplant, watering is recommended every one to two weeks, depending on the season and the amount of sunlight your plant receives. The more light your plant gets, the more often it will need to be watered. My houseplants also need a lot more water in the summer months when they are actively growing.
Use the soil to guide how often your bird of paradise needs to be watered. Allow the soil to dry out on the top before watering it again.
Outdoors, once this plant is established, it is unlikely to need supplemental water except in drought. In the case of low rainfall, water your plant every one to two weeks.
They thrive in well-draining, organically rich soil that maintains moisture without becoming waterlogged.
Birds of paradise are not picky about their soil. They adapt to most soil conditions and pH levels as long as there is proper drainage and your plant’s roots aren’t sitting in wet soil for a prolonged amount of time.
Ideally, the soil you plant your bird of paradise in should be organically rich and loamy with some coarse sand or perlite mixed in. You want the soil to hold moisture but drain well.
Temperature and Humidity
Birds-of-paradise tolerate brief cold spells but thrive in temperatures above 55°F.
Birds-of-paradise are surprisingly cold-tolerant for a brief time. The roots and foliage can handle short periods of temperatures as low as 24°F. The flowers and buds are not likely to recover from temperatures below freezing.
Ideally, your plant will be happiest spending nights above 55°F and days at 70° or warmer. It prefers relatively high humidity but will survive at a normal household humidity level.
However, a bit of extra humidity will keep this plant at its best. Giving your plant a pebble tray, humidifier, or a spot in the bathroom are all good ways to add humidity.
Birds-of-paradise thrive with regular fertilization during growth but need less in winter.
Bird-of-Paradise is what one might call a heavy feeder. You can fertilize your plant every two to three weeks during the growing season. Scale back to once per month in the winter when your plant will grow less, use less water, and need fewer nutrients.
Use a fertilizer with a balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This plant will respond well to manure and blood meal as fertilizers as well. For indoor plants, use a water-soluble fertilizer.
Pruning your bird-of-paradise isn’t necessary if it’s healthy, but trim any damaged leaves close to the base.
After blooming, you may want to clean up the appearance of your plant by deadheading the spent flowers. Use a clean set of loppers to remove the entire flower stem as close as possible to the base. If another flower forms on the same stalk, refrain from cutting it off. Simply cut off the spent flower at the flower’s base.
If your plant looks healthy, there is little reason to do any other pruning. As a houseplant, the bird of paradise will grow more slowly, and you will see fewer leaves die back. In the garden, you may see a leaf here and there turn brown because of damage or dry and cold weather. Trim these back as close as possible to the base.
Birds-of-paradise can be hard pruned if there is significant damage to the foliage and will regrow if you do not cut all the way to the ground. Leave about one foot of growth from the ground up, and the plant’s crown will continue to grow new leaves.
Divide the rhizomes to propagate and grow more plants.
Birds-of-paradise are easy to propagate, but the best way to do so is to wait until the plant gets large enough to produce offsets. These plants have a clumping habit, growing from rhizomes. They send out new offsets yearly, which can be separated, relocated, or repotted.
The ideal time to propagate is early spring when new shoots are just forming. If your indoor plant is growing faster than you anticipated and you need to divide the plant at another time of year, don’t worry. Your plant will still recover. Timing is more important for outdoor plants.
Since bird-of-paradise plants will not grow roots from cuttings, removing a portion of the tuber or rhizome is important when dividing your plant. You will need to remove the plant from its pot and use a sharp knife or tool to slice through the rhizome, leaving both or all sections with some leaves and some roots attached.
Propagating by seed is typically not done by home gardeners. Growing these plants from seed can be a very long, arduous process that results in plants that may take up to three years to produce flowers.
When the conditions of its environment are less than optimal, Bird-of-Paradise plants can be susceptible to some issues. In general, though, these plants are pretty tough and rather resilient when something negative affects them. Keeping your plant fed and well cared for is always the best defense, as a strong plant can resist and heal better than a sickly one.
They are prone to fungal root rot due to sensitivity to overwatering.
The most common issue for this plant is fungal root rot. This plant has tuberous roots that are sensitive to overwatering. If the plant is consistently overwatered, and the roots remain wet for a long period of time, the outer covering of the tubers will break down, and decaying matter in the potting medium can cause the roots to rot.
This is easily avoided by planting your Bird of Paradise in soil that has good drainage where water will not collect for long periods. As a houseplant, this can be avoided by giving your plant proper drainage and only watering when the top of the soil is dry.
Bird-of-paradise is vulnerable to leaf spot diseases from bacteria or fungi, which thrive in moist conditions.
Leaf spot disease can be caused by bacteria or fungus and is usually spread similarly. Many of the pathogens that cause leaf spots are waterborne or airborne and grow when moisture is abundant. For a humidity-loving plant like the bird-of-paradise, this can be tricky.
When you water your plant, don’t wet the foliage. Instead, water only the soil. Maintaining good air circulation around your plant is also essential for avoiding leaf spot diseases. If your plant becomes too dense, it is a good idea to divide and repot the plants to maintain space for air to circulate and keep the leaves dry.
Bird-of-paradise is usually resistant to many pests, but watch for scale, spider mites, and mealybugs.
For the most part, birds-of-paradise are not a favorite among insects that like to feed on plants, but they may strike occasionally. Look for scale, spider mites, and mealybugs, and treat with neem oil if you see signs of infestation.
Resembling root rot, bacterial wilt is caused by soil bacteria.
Bacterial wilt looks an awful lot like root rot once it begins to set into the crown of your plant. Rather than being caused by a fungus, it is bacteria in the soil that causes this issue. Bacterial wilt will manifest as wilting leaves, yellowing at the base of the stems, and black discoloration near the plant’s crown.
Once it reaches the level visible in the soil, your plant is not likely to survive, so prevention is the best medicine for bacterial wilt. Keep the soil draining well, and don’t overwater your plant. These will go a long way in protecting your plant from a host of evils.
White Flowered Banana
This thrives in tropical outdoor gardens but isn’t suited for indoor growth.
Full sun to partial shade
up to 30’
Alba is the tallest of the Birds-of-Paradise. Reaching up to 30 feet tall, this one doesn’t do well indoors but makes a stunning statement in the tropical outdoor garden. This variety is found in the wild in southern Africa and Madagascar.
Mountain Wild Banana
Mountain Wild Banana is found wild in the southern African mountains.
Full sun to partial shade
up to 20’
S. caudata is another tree-sized bird-of-paradise that reaches upward to 20 feet tall at maturity. It is commonly found in mountainous regions of southern Africa, including South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. The flowers on this species are white tufted with black, beak-like structures.
The popular S. reginae has vibrant orange and purple flowers.
Full sun to partial shade
The most common and popular species, S. reginae, is a stunning plant that reaches only six feet tall and has broad, banana-like leaves. The flowers on this species are brilliant orange and purple and stand out wonderfully against the smooth green foliage.
Narrow Leaf Bird-of-Paradise
This smaller bird of paradise has straplike leaves and works well in borders.
Full sun to partial shade
The Narrow Leaf looks very similar to S. reginae, except that its leaves are narrow and straplike, as opposed to the banana-like leaves of its relatives. This is a smaller species that makes a very nice border for your tropical garden and a great houseplant as well. The flowers make excellent cut flowers, too!
Frequently Asked Questions
Your plant’s leaves may curl as a result of dehydration or because of extreme temperature shifts. If the weather suddenly changes, you may see the edges of your bird-of-paradise leaves begin to curl inward.
The most likely culprit of a bird of paradise not blooming is a lack of light. These plants like plenty of sunlight, and that can be difficult indoors. Make sure your plant gets at least six hours of direct sun daily.
Strelitzia nicolai and Strelitzia reginae are the best species for growing as houseplants.
Bird-of-Paradise is a striking and unique tropical plant that makes an excellent houseplant. You don’t have to live in a tropical climate to enjoy this beautiful plant. All you need is a bright, sunny window for it to grow, thrive, and bloom in your home.