Strelitzia, also known as bird of paradise, are primarily known as cut flowers. However, the exotic plant with its spectacular flowers also thrives in pots. You can read about what’s important for planting and caring for it in your own four walls.
Strelitzia are primarily known and loved as cut flowers. However, they can also be grown as potted plants in conservatories and large, bright living rooms. This exotic plant genus, which includes five species belongs to the Strelitziaceae family. The species originate from Cape Province in South Africa, however, they can also be found on the Canary Islands and Madeira. The Strelitzia was first described in 1773 by the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820), who named the plant after Queen Sophie Charlotte, the born princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744 – 1818) and wife of King George III. By the way: You may often find the name spelled Strelizia (without the “t”) - however, this is incorrect.
Appearance and Growth
Strelitzia are perennial shrubs that can grow between 6.56 (Strelitzia reginae) and 32.81 (Strelitzia alba) feet tall. All species are clump-forming. While the Strelitzia nicolai, Strelitzia alba, and Strelitzia caudata form a trunk and grow like trees, the leaves of the most well-known Strelitzia, Strelitzia reginae, are basal. The leaves themselves are green, arranged in at least to rows, and very large and leathery. Strelitzia inflorescences, which are orange-blue or white-greenish blue, depending on the species, protrude from the leaf axils. The striking flowers are similar to the crest of the bird of paradise, which is also where they get their colloquial designation bird of paradise flower.
Location and Substrate
Strelitzia can stand in large containers in the conservatory or in bright living rooms with sufficient space. Here it thrives in temperatures from 46 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The leaves become somewhat long at higher temperatures. As soon as the flowers form, the plant should no longer be repositioned or moved, as otherwise the flowers will not continue to emerge. Strelitzia can also be placed in a sunny spot outside. Strelitzia prefer a loamy and nutrient-rich, permeable soil - the thick roots react quickly to waterlogging by developing root rot. A mixture of loamy soil, leaves, and compost as well as mature dung is suitable. Some sand makes the substrate more permeable.
If you want to plant a Strelitzia in a container, begin by filling in a drainage layer, for example with expanding clay. Then add a layer of substrate and then the plant root ball. Fill in the gap between the ball and the pot wall with soil and carefully push down, then water thoroughly.
Strelitzia need a relatively large amount of water in the summer. However, in winter, the plant needs to be kept mostly dry. As previously mentioned, avoid waterlogging at all costs, as the thick, fleshy roots quickly rot. Give the plant some standard trade fertilizer for container plants once a month from March to October.
Older leaves on large Strelitzia should be regularly removed. Otherwise, the remaining leaves will not get enough light and air to stay healthy and continue to grow. Strelitzia need fresh substrate about every three years. A word of caution: Do not damage the fleshy roots when replanting or planting outside. The best time for repotting is late spring (March/April).
Overwintering and Winter Protection
Strelitzia should be kept in a bright and sunny location in the winter at a temperature of 50 and no higher than 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Only sporadic watering is required during this time.
Important Species and Varieties
There are a total of five species of South African tree-like and trunkless Strelitzia. The tree-like Strelitzia include the white-flowered wild banana Strelitzia (Strelitzia alba), the mountain Strelitzia (Strelitzia caudata), and the giant white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai). These are suitable for tall greenhouses, where they are best planted in a similar way to bananas. The Strelitzia tree forms leaves above human head height and also a trunk over the years. Their flowers are white-blue. However, these only appear after about eight years. The plants can stand all year round in a conservatory or in very bright, warm, tall living rooms. Shorter examples can be placed outside in the summer, in a sunny spot, for example on the patio.
The trunkless species include, among others, the Strelitzia juncea, also known as the rush-leaved Strelitzia. This is the smallest of the Strelitzia species. In contrast to the other species, its lamina have almost completely disappeared, so that the plant only consists of gray-green, round stems, reminiscent of rushes. It is recommended for smaller greenhouses.
The best-known plant is the Strelitzia reginae or bird of paradise flower. It is largely offered in Germany as a cut flower, however it can also be grown in a container. This species has large, green, long-stemmed, navicular-shaped spathaceous bracts in which the buds lie in the water. The conspicuous six petaled flowers rise from these. The petals are orange colored on the outside and sky-blue on the inside. In their native regions they are pollinated by sunbirds. The plants form more and more shoots as they get older. Bird of paradise flowers adapt their flowering period to their location: If they are in warm and bright living rooms in the winter their flowers will already open in December. However, if they are in cooler, lower-lit locations, they will only flower in the summer.
The most common method for propagating Strelitzia is through dividing. This is best done directly when repotting in the spring by carefully separating the young plants from the mother plant. You should dust the cutting point on the roots with charcoal powder in order to prevent the roots from starting to rot before you replant both the older plant and the offshoot. The young plants should not be placed in direct sunlight and only sparsely watered. Use a permeable and nutrient-rich soil as a substrate. After a few weeks you can place the plant offshoots in a larger container.
Strelitzia seeds that you can sow in summer in peat pots are available in trade shops. Push the seeds about 0.39 inches deep into the substrate and water the whole thing thoroughly with luke warm water. After sowing the pots should be kept warm and moist. This propagation method requires some patience: Germination can sometimes take many weeks or even months. It will also take six to seven years until Strelitzia grown from seeds flower for the first time.
Diseases and Pests
Strelitzia are extremely robust against plant diseases and pests. However, root rot can occur if they are too wet and dry room air result in spider mites. Round, gray-brown spots with red edges on the leaves indicates a Septoria fungus infestation. However, this is rare.