Tropical gardens have an undeniable allure to them, transporting you to a coastal paradise in your own backyard. And there is no better plant to fill a tropical garden than the towering bird of paradise.
Bird of paradise is the common name for plants in the Strelitzia genus. This name describes the unique shape of the flowers that, whether orange or white, instantly catch the eye. But they are most appreciated for their massive tropical leaves, particularly in indoor gardens.
There are five species to choose from (with another one lost to history). With slightly different native habitats and environmental preferences, choose the one that best suits your climate and available space.
Resilient and low-maintenance, this widely grown species is a favorite for its vibrant blossoms and tropical appeal.
Strelitzia reginae, commonly known as the orange crane flower for its bird-shaped blossoms, is the most well-known and widely grown species of the Strelitzia genus. Native to the coastal Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa, it has a stunning tropical look that matches its preferred environment.
Named by English botanist Joseph Banks in the 18th century, the specific epithet reginae has royal connotations, translating to ‘of the queen.’ It spread from Britain around the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, becoming incredibly popular and growing widely across warmer regions of several continents.
Their love of warmth and impressive ornamental value has made them popular statement houseplants to fill empty corners. But those in regions like Florida and California can also plant these beauties outdoors. Its popularity in the latter state earned it the honor of becoming the Official Flower of the City of Los Angeles.
Strelitzia reginae typically reaches heights of about 6 feet or shorter, depending on the environment where they are planted. The upright blue-green leaves provide the perfect contrasting backdrop for the striking orange and blue flowers, blooming in late winter and into spring. The cultivar ‘Mandela’s Gold’ has yellow flowers rather than bright orange if you want something more subtle.
Another reason for their popularity is resilience. Provided that they get a full day of sun and well-draining soil, they can generally be left alone. You may want to consider protection from high winds if that is an issue in your backyard, as it may cause the leaves to split.
Native to South Africa, this giant variety boasts impressive height, white-blue blooms, and tropical vibes.
With a name like the giant bird of paradise, it’s easy to picture the majesty of this popular species. It is native to coastal areas in South Africa but is also widespread in the region, found in neighboring Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Botswana.
Resembling the smaller Strelitzia reginae flowers in shape, Strelitzia nicolai blooms differ in color, featuring a striking contrast of white with a deep blue bract. The more muted tones are great for both indoor and outdoor minimalist gardens, although they may struggle to flower indoors with less-than-optimal lighting conditions.
In warmer climates, Strelitzia nicolai is an impressive and towering addition to outdoor gardens. Its height – reaching up to a massive 30 feet – and large banana-like leaves create an instant tropical feel in any garden. Planting in containers is also possible to restrict their height, making them equally useful in indoor gardens.
Growing Strelitzia nicolai requires a bit more space due to its size, but that can also be a benefit if you’re looking to fill empty gaps in your garden. It grows well in full sun or partial shade and is best with regular watering, especially soon after planting.
While it is a bit more sensitive to cold temperatures than the previous species, keeping it protected indoors will avoid any leaf or root damage. A sheltered position is also essential to protect it from strong winds easily caught by the massive leaves.
Cape wild banana features tall, arching foliage and distinctive white flowers, thriving in warmer climates.
You may see Strelitzia alba named Cape wild banana after its native region in the Cape of South Africa. Its other common name is the white bird of paradise after the stark white flowers. Or, you’ll even see it labeled by a different scientific name, S. augusta.
The specific epithet alba describes the pristine white flowers, a feature that sets it apart in the Strelitzia genus. This stark color helps the flowers stand out amongst the green arching foliage without overwhelming a space, ideal for toned-down gardens. Like the previous species, you’ll need to live in a warmer zone to grow them outside year after year.
Like Strelitzia nicolai, Strelitzia alba is known for its impressive height, growing between 20 and 30 feet when given the space. The leaves alone can reach up to 6 feet in height, arching outwards and adding a touch of the tropics to your backyard.
Strelitzia alba is moderately drought-tolerant once established but responds well to regular watering soon after planting. This species is also relatively hardy and can withstand cooler temperatures than some other Strelitzia varieties.
The mountain Strelitzia thrives in cooler subtropical regions, featuring unique tailed sepals.
Originating from mountainous regions of South Africa, it’s no wonder why Strelitzia caudata is commonly known as the mountain strelitzia. Growing in high-altitude areas, it differs in habitat from the previous species but retains the same tropical look and feel.
Its specific epithet caudata, meaning ‘tailed,’ describes the unique sepal only found in this particular species. It is a little tougher to find than other common species, but it is no harder to grow or care for if you can get your hands on one.
This species is particularly well-suited for those in cooler subtropical regions rather than very warm tropics, providing an option for those in lower zones. It is slightly shorter than the largest varieties but still grows to an impressive 20 feet in the right environments. The flowers are also a mix of bright white and blue – a color not often seen in the garden.
Strelitzia caudata grows best in partial shade, making it slightly more adaptable to lower light conditions than other species. Regular watering will keep the leaves lush, and protection from strong winds will stop the leaves from splitting.
The rush-leaved Strelitzia features slender, grassy foliage, ideal for smaller spaces.
Strelitzia juncea stands out from the rest of the species for its narrow upright foliage and is known as the rush-leaved strelitzia. Native to particular parts of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, it sports unique reed-like foliage that looks unlike any of its relatives within the genus.
The slender, almost cylindrical leaves, along with their shorter height of about 6 feet, give the plant more of a grassy appearance than a tropical one. Its stature makes it an excellent option for smaller spaces, an architectural accent in larger landscapes, or for planting in large outdoor containers. Its flowers match the familiar Strelitzia reginae, with bright orange and blue to catch the eye.
Strelitzia juncea thrives in arid environments where it tolerates harsh sun and lack of water well. It is better suited to gardens in warm but dry regions and will grow happily in a drought-tolerant or water-wise garden.
Strelitzia × kewensis
This hybrid of S. reginae and S. alba has vanished from cultivation.
Strelitzia × kewensis is the last entry on the list – a hybrid species created by crossing Strelitzia reginae and Strelitzia alba. This botanical blend was first cultivated at Kew in England (hence the name) and flowered for the first time in 1909.
This hybrid produced unique pale yellow flowers, distinctive from other species. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to add this beauty to your garden, as it has disappeared from cultivation, according to Kew.
If you want to turn your indoor or outdoor garden into a tropical paradise, this is the plant to do it. Any of these stunning species fit seamlessly into tropical landscapes, matching the large-leafed trend and easily filling empty spaces.