Picture a crown of banana-like leaves atop a palm tree trunk, combine with huge, uniquely beautiful flowers, and then what you have is the exotically named bird of paradise tree. Related to the bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia regina), this close cousin is a much larger plant forming huge clumps of stems to 30 feet in comparison to S. regina's 3 to 4 feet height.
The 6 - 8' leaves are grey-green and arranged in fans atop the trunks. Plants form clumps of several variably-sized trunks that may grow to 18' in width under optimal conditions. The infloresence (the paradisiacal bird-like flower structures) are composed of a dark blue bract, white sepals and bluish-purple "tongue". The entire "bird" can be as large as 7" high by 18" long and is typically held just above the point where the leaf fan emerges from the trunk. Flowers are followed by triangular seed capsules.
All members of the family Strelitziaceae are native to sub-tropical South Africa. The bird of paradise tree is becoming very popular both as a subject for use in near frost-free landscapes and as a subject for interiorscapes. Plant in sheltered spot as high winds will shred leaves resulting in scruffy looking plants.
The "big bird" likes enriched moisture-retentive soils. It responds enthusiastically to fertilizer, so feed about once a month during the warm growing season to stimulate rapid growth. When plants attain desired size you can withold fertilizer to slow growth and keep plant in scale. Light: Full sun to part shade. My observations indicate that the handsomest specimens are those that receive some shade during the heat of the day. Moisture: Water when dry. Does not like saturated conditions. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. This plant is hardier than S. regina - it can handle brief periods of frost with no damage. Leaf damage occurs at temperatures below 28 F but plant will recover. Propagation: Division of clumps is the easiest way as well as from suckers. Also from seed but note that plants require many years of growth before they begin blooming.
Bird of paradise tree is a spectacular accent plant. Use in pairs as sentinels guarding entries and gateways. Also a great plant for large containers situated both outdoors or inside. Indeed, large populations of bird of paradise tree now inhabit shopping malls all over the country. It's size and bulk make it suitable for large-scale commercial landscapes, golf courses, parks, campuses and mall food courts.
This is an easy to grow, very non-messy, low maintenance plant that is a good choice for use near pool and patio. Plants are inexpensive, available in a range of sizes, and grow rather quickly and so are a great choice for new home landscapes in warm areas. Bird of paradise tree is just the ticket when you want tough, durable beauty and unique form in a large plant.
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