Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia)
Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia) is a much loved plant in Australian gardens. Their common name comes from their striking flowers – bright, plumed blooms perched on long stems that look like the crests of tropical birds peeking through the leaves.
They’ve more to offer than just looks though. Native to South Africa, Strelitzias are tough plants. They’ll withstand drought, salty coastal conditions, light frost and general neglect. They’re perfect for beginner gardeners as they don’t ask very much once established, and are fantastic at bouncing back from just about any gardening mishap.
Planting, Care and Maintenance
The most important thing to do for a Strelitzia is to plant it somewhere that suits its needs, and it will mostly take care of the rest. That means a sunny position, at worst part shade, with free draining soil. They can cope with either very little water or lots – provided that the water is running through the soil away from the plant. If they are left to sit in boggy soil, the fleshy roots will slowly rot, killing your plant.
Fertilise your Strelitzia in spring and autumn with a general purpose fertiliser like Ferticote. Those gorgeous flowers will appear in spring, summer and if you’re lucky winter too, so either cut them to enjoy inside in a vase or trim them off when the flower has finished to help the plant conserve energy. Leaving finished flowers on the plant will discourage it from producing more.
There are three main varieties of Strelitzia:
Strelitzia Reginae is the most recognisable and popular variety, with striking orange and blue flowers amongst broad, tropical looking leaves. In lush environments with plenty of water, the leaves will be a deep green, while in drier environments they take on a touch of pretty silvery-grey. Growing to 1.5 metres high by one metre wide, the plant keeps a dense, clumping habit.
Strelitzia Nicolai growing to 4 or 6 metres tall, Nicolai is a more dramatic choice in the garden. There are fewer leaves but they are much larger. The flowers are the same shape as Reginae, but dark blue and white. Try them as a lovely tropical screen.
Strelitzia Juncea sets itself apart from Nicolai and Reginae with the absence of those broad, tropical leaves. While a similar size and shape to Reginae, the leaves grow long and straight like tubes or grass. When dotted with the trademark orange and blue flowers, they look like a burst of fireworks. They are slower growing than other Strelitzias but their architectural shape makes them a great choice for those that don’t like the tropical look – particularly in modern gardens.
Pests and Diseases
Thankfully Strelitzias are not prone to any serious problems in Australia. The most common are:
- Root Rot: Caused by inadequate drainage. Water builds up around the fleshy roots, causing them to slowly rot. It can be hard to identify early as the plant slowly wilts and looks generally miserable. Digging into the soil reveals slimy and sometimes dark roots. Try raising the garden bed or in clay soils, adding gypsum to help improve the soil structure.
- Mealy Bug or Scale: These tiny insects can be a problem throughout the garden. Either spray them off with a jet of water and squash them or, for big infestations, consider a spray with an insecticide.
- Leaf Blight: Usually identified by white spots on the leaves with a ring of green around them. This is a fungal issue, and is treated with a spray of a fungicide.