Everything You Need to Know About Bird of Paradise Plants – Origins, History, Symbolism, How to Grow & How to Care at Home.
The Bird of Paradise plant takes some beating when it comes to adding a touch of ‘tropical’ to your home. This easy to care for plant has huge, blue-green, lush foliage, and it grows to a very impressive height. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the famed Stretlitzia reginae including their history, origins, botanical characteristics, their cultural meanings & symbolism, plus how-to-grow, and how-to-care for Bird of Paradise Plants at home.
- About Bird of Paradise Plants (Origins, History, Botanical Characteristics, Cultivars)
- Will my Bird of Paradise Bloom Indoors?
- Meaning & Symbolism of Bird of Paradise Plants Symbolism
- How to Grow Bird of Paradise Plants at Home (potting, planting, soil-mix)
- Bird of Paradis Plant Care (watering, feeding, fertilizing, pruning)
- How to Propagate Bird of Paradise
- How to Repot Bird of Paradise Plants?
- Common Bird of Paradise Problems & How to Treat them
- Bird of Paradise Pest & Disease Considerations
- Essential tools to have around
For more – see our go-to plant shops and garden centers curating the best Bird of Paradise plants for sale in the US today.
About Bird of Paradise Plants:
Origins and History
The Bird of Paradise plant is native to the South African Cape Provinces and to KwaZulu-Natal. Kew Science also lists it as growing, as an introduced species, on the Juan Fernández Islands (a remote archipelago off the west coast of Chile), and throughout Mexico.
The name Strelitzia reginae, was chosen in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife to the British King, George III. Charlotte was a keen botanist, who helped to develop the world-famous Kew Gardens in South London where she lived for many years.
The common name ‘Bird of Paradise’, comes from the resemblance of its flowers to the elaborate plumage of the Bird of Paradise – a tropical bird, native to the forests of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Australia.
Strelitzia reginae is cultivated on a large scale for use in home and garden planting schemes. It is also a very popular florists’ flower. It is used in traditional South African medicine to treat illnesses caused by bacterial pathogens. The seeds can also be used to sour milk.
Bird of Paradise Botanical Characteristics
- Family: Strelitziaceae
- Genus: Strelitzia
- Species: reginae
The genus Strelitzia contains only five different species. All are evergreen, rhizatomous perennials. Bird of Paradise plants grow in clumps of long, stiff stalks that emerge directly from the soil. It has large, oblong, glaucous leaves, which look very similar to those of its cousin, the banana plant.
Its bird-like flowers are striking in both shape and color, emerging in succession from beak-shaped bracts. Strelitzias range in size from 4ft (1.5m), right up to 33ft (10m) tall. The clumps grow to around 3-5ft (1-1.5m) wide.
Cultivar Selection- The Most Common Strelitzias to Grow as Houseplants
- Strelitzia reginae is the most popular Bird of Paradise plant. It has blue and orange flowers and grows to around 4ft (1.5m).
- Strelitzia nicolai is a giant Bird of Paradise. It has blue and white flowers and can grow to as much as 33ft (10m) tall! In an indoor setting it is more likely that its height will remain at around 6ft (2.8m).
- Strelitzia alba is another very large Bird of Paradise. This one is quite rare; it has pure white flowers and also grows to around 33ft (10m) in height.
- Strelitzia reginae ‘Kirstenbosch Gold’ (previously known as ‘Mandela’s Gold’) is a very rare, yellow flowering form. It grows to a height of around 4ft (1.5m).
Will my Bird of Paradise Bloom Indoors?
There is a common misconception that Bird of Paradise plants doesn’t bloom indoors. The truth is that they take around 5 years to be mature enough to be capable of flowering. Many people, opting for what they see to be a low-priced, bargain plant, unknowingly bring home a juvenile plant. They then become disappointed when it doesn’t flower.
Given perfect conditions, a Bird of Paradise plant can flower intermittently throughout the year. Although, the more common flowering period is late winter into early spring.
Bird of Paradise flowers are good for cutting and will usually last around a week in a vase. The flowers, along with the large glaucous leaves, are an excellent choice for use in exotic floral displays.
Bird of Paradise Plant Meaning and Symbolism
- In its native land of South Africa, the Bird of Paradise flower is also known as the crane flower. It is featured on the 50c coin there and is regarded as a symbol of paradise on Earth, of beauty, and of freedom.
- Because of its regal name, it is also seen as a symbol of royal lineage, excellence, magnificence, and success. This makes the plant a perfect gift for anyone celebrating success in business or education.
- Both flowers and foliage are used by florists to make exotic, statement displays.
- Bird of Paradise flowers are frequently used in bouquets for lovers as they represent faithfulness and optimism for the future. For this reason, they are traditionally given as a gift for a 9th wedding anniversary.
- The bird-like shape also makes the Bird of Paradise a perfect gift, as bouquet or plant, to someone embarking on long trips. A bird has the ultimate freedom of the earth, the ability to fly high and to travel safely above the world.
- The equal presence of two contrasting colors in each flower (3 blue petals and 3 orange) represents perfect balance and harmony.
- The bird-like shape of the flowers represents the element, and energy, of Air.
- The color blue symbolizes peace, truth, devotion, justice, and wisdom.
- Orange symbolizes creativity, optimism, positive thinking, and emotional healing.
- The color white symbolizes purity, spirituality, innocence, and peace.
How to Grow Bird of Paradise Plants at Home
4 Things to do Before Planting:
- Plant selection – When choosing your plant, check it over thoroughly to make sure there are no signs of pests or disease. The most obvious signs are the presence of insects and, discolored or drooping leaves. You should also be aware that, as mentioned before, a plant that comes at a cheaper price than expected maybe a young plant. This is fine as long as you are aware that it may not flower for the first few years.
- Consider where in your home you would like to place your new Bird of Paradise plant. You should plan for a height of at least 6 feet (1.8m) and a width of around 4 feet (1.2m). An ideal location is free of draughts and, is away from any heat sources such as radiators. Natural light is essential, a location within 3 feet of a window is best. (See below for further details on lighting needs)
- Choose a decorative pot or planter with drainage holes and a saucer to match. Your pot should be large enough to comfortably hold the root ball, plus a couple of inches excess space all round. If your plant is of a flowering age (5 years+) you can reduce the amount of space in the pot. Rootbound Strelitzias flower more readily than those with lots of space in the pot.
- Buy in plenty of good quality potting compost. Bird of Paradise plants are not too fussy so a standard houseplant mix will suit it just fine. (See below for the ideal potting mix)
The Best Bird of Paradise Soil Mix
The best soil mix for a Bird of Paradise plant is loam-based compost. The Royal Horticultural Society describes a loam-based potting mix as a mixture of clay, sand, and silt that avoids the extremes of clay or sandy soils. Loam-based composts are both fertile and well-drained.
For more, see our comprehensive guide to the best potting soil for Bird of Paradise plants.
Bird of Paradise Plant Light Preferences
Bird of Paradise plants need lots of light to flower well. The best location for Bird of Paradise plants is within 3 feet of a window.
The best aspects are east and west-facing windows. South-facing windows are also good but, shield young plants in particular from midday, summer sun as this can scorch the leaves. Rooms with only north-facing windows are not considered suitable for Bird of Paradise plants.
Bird of Paradise Temperature & Humidity Preferences
Bird of Paradise plants like a warm, humid atmosphere. They need a minimum temperature of 50-54F (10-12C) but don’t like to get too hot. If the temperature in the room reaches more than 68F (20C) it is advisable to ventilate the room a little.
Bathrooms are ideal locations for them if they have an adequate light source (as described above). Strelitzias can really struggle in very dry environments, which is why it is essential to keep them away from any heat sources in the home or air conditioning units.
Misting your plants is not recommended as it is the air around the plants that need to be damp, not the leaves themselves. Wet leaves are a magnet for pests and diseases.
The best way to increase humidity is to place a water-filled gravel tray underneath your plant. You could even buy an indoor water feature to place nearby! As the water evaporates into the air it will increase the humidity around your plant.
How Big and How Fast will my Bird of Paradise Plant Grow indoors?
Bird of Paradise plants are rather fast-growing indoor plants. They can reach a height of 5-6ft (1.5-1.8m) and spread of 3-5ft (1-1.5m) in around 5 years.
Bird of Paradise Plant Care
How to Water Bird of Paradise Plants
Bird of Paradise plants need regular watering during the spring and summer growing season. They like their soil to be consistently moist, but dislike their roots stagnating in water.
This sounds tricky to achieve but actually, it’s quite simple as long as your pot has drainage. When the soil in your pots begins to feel a little dry, water it until the water runs out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Then empty away any water that is left standing in the saucer.
From late autumn until early spring, the soil should be allowed to become quite dry between waterings.
Feeding & Fertilizing Bird of Paradise Plants
Houseplants that are regularly re-potted do not usually need feeding (see below for re-potting regime). However, the Bird of Paradise plant is considered by some to be a heavy feeder. So, if you notice any signs of nutrient deficiency, such as discolored leaves or a reduction in growth rate, you can begin feeding with a balanced, general purpose houseplant feed. These are usually applied every 2-4 weeks, depending on the brand. Already discolored leaves will not re-color, but new growth will be green and healthy.
How and When to Prune Bird of Paradise Plants
Bird of Paradise plants do not need any specific pruning. If you wish to, you can remove any old leaf or flower stalks by cutting them right down to the base.
How to Propagate Bird of Paradise Plants:
- By division – The easiest way to propagate Strelitzia is by dividing the rhizomes (roots). The best time to do this is when you repot the plant. Remove the plant from the pot and gently pull the roots apart. Separate any roots with shoots or stems attached to them and pot them up into new pots.
- By seed – Bird of Paradise plants can also be grown from seed but patience is required. Strelitzia seeds are slow to germinate, and seed-grown plants can take 5-10 years to flower.
Here’s how to do it…
- Before sowing your seeds, you need to place them in a refrigerator for two weeks. This is because the seeds need to experience a period of reduced temperatures (as they would have in the wild) to start the germination process.
- Remove the orange fluff and mix the seeds into a handful of compost. Place them into a small sealed tub or plastic bag and pop them in the fridge.
- After two weeks remove the seeds from the fridge and soak them in warm (but not hot) water for 2-3 hours.
- Remove the seeds from the water and gently nick the seed coat with a sharp knife. Alternatively, you can scratch at the seed coating with sandpaper. Breaking down the outer coating helps to speed up germination.
- Sow the seeds into small pots of either a general-purpose or, a seed growing compost. The seeds should be sown half an inch deep, and at a spacing of at least 1 inch apart.
- Water the compost and place the pot into a heated propagator* set to 65-70F (18-21C). You should not need to water them again unless the soil begins to dry out.
- When germination has occurred (usually 4-8 weeks later) and you have 2-3 sets of leaves, you can remove them from the propagator and pot them on into individual pots.
*If you don’t have a heated propagator you can cover the pots with a plastic bag and place them in a consistently warm area. Push cocktail sticks or similar into the soil to hold the plastic bag up, preventing it from making contact with any emerging seedlings.
How Often Should I Repot my Bird of Paradise Plants?
The Royal Horticultural Society recommends that Bird of Paradise plants should be re-potted every other year, preferably in Spring. Repotting in spring gives the plant a boost of fresh nutrients that will see it through the growing year ahead. In the first few years, your plant will likely outgrow its pot so increase the pot size by a couple of inches each year.
To repot your Bird of Paradise plant:
- Gently remove it from its pot and shake off any loose, old compost.
- Add a layer of new compost (a couple of inches deep) to the bottom of the pot then replace the plant.
- Add more compost around the sides of the root ball so that the pot is evenly filled.
- Press gently to firm the plant into place and water thoroughly.
In the year that you do not repot you can simply remove and replace the top couple of inches of soil with new compost. This is known as topdressing.
It is worth noting that Strelitzias flower best when their roots are congested. Therefore, once your plant has reached around 5 years old, it is not essential that you increase the pot size every time that you re-pot.
Common Bird of Paradise Problems & How to Treat them
When plants are unhappy, early signs often show up in the leaves. Brown or yellow leaves, brown tips, leaf deformities and drooping are all common signs that something is not quite right. Here are a few common questions, with solutions, to common problems in Bird of Paradise plants…
Why are my Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling?
Curling leaves are a sign of underwatering. To solve this problem, increase the frequency of watering, and/or, make sure that when you do water, you do so until the water runs freely from the bottom of the pot. This ensures that all the compost is soaked thoroughly and all roots have access to water.
Why are my Bird of Paradise Leaves Fading to Yellow?
Leaves can turn yellow for a wide variety of reasons. The odd leaf turning yellow, especially if old, is a normal part of the plants natural cycle.
If it’s more than that, then the main things to check for are:
- humidity levels are correct.
- the plant has been re-potted/fed correctly. Yellow leaves can be a sign that nutrient levels are low.
- the plant has been watered correctly. Yellow leaves that occur towards the outside of the plant are a sign of underwatering.
Are Slits and Breaks in the Leaves Normal?
Yes, they are, it’s totally normal. This is how the plant has adapted in its natural environment. The slits develop as the leaf grows so that the wind can pass through without damaging the plant. Slits and tears will be more noticeable if your pot was moved outside for the summer and has been exposed to the wind.
Why Are my Bird of Paradise Leaves Turning Brown?
Brown, dry and crunchy leaves are a sign that your plant may be being overwatered. To remedy this there are number of things to do:
- Reduce the frequency of watering. Only water when the top inch or so of soil becomes dry to touch.
- Make sure your plant is growing in a pot with drainage holes. If it is, check that the holes have not become blocked. Water must be able to drain freely from the pot. The roots can rot away if left waterlogged for too long.
- Gently remove the plant from its pot and inspect the root ball. If the soil looks to be soaking wet, as in there is water present rather than just damp soil, replace it with new compost and do not water for a few days to allow the excess to soak up. You can even leave the root ball out of the pot for a few hours to dry up a little.
Common Pests & Diseases
Common Bird of Paradise pests includes scale insects, red spider mites, and mealybugs. If you find any pests affecting your plant apply insecticidal soap or the leaves or use a systemic pesticide.
Bird of Paradise plants are generally disease-free. They can be susceptible to grey mold, especially if you mist your plant. Grey mold can be clearly seen, growing on the leaves or flowers. Remove any affected parts with a clean sharp knife and make sure that the plant is getting good airflow.
Essential tools to have around
No specific tools are needed to help with Bird of Paradise growing. A sharp knife or pair of clean, sharp secateurs are all that is needed for removing any old or tatty growth.
Bird of Paradise plants really are a beautiful addition to any home. As long as you have the space for their huge tropical foliage that is. They are easy to care for and produce the most stunning blooms! All you need to remember is…bright light, warmth, and deep, regular watering!
Bird of Paradise Plants FAQ
How much sun does a bird of paradise need?
Bird of Paradise plants enjoy bright light conditions. The best aspects are east and west-facing windows. South-facing windows are also good but, shield young plants in particular from midday, summer sun as this can scorch the leaves. Rooms with only north-facing windows are not considered suitable for Bird of Paradise plants.
How do you take care of a bird of paradise plant?
Bird of Paradise plants are generally considered easy-care plants. To successfully nurture at home aim for bright, indirect light conditions, watering frequently to maintain some moisture in the soil, and feed sparingly with an all-purpose plant feed (every 4 to 6 weeks during spring and summer months).
How much are birds of paradise plants?
Younger, smaller Bird of Paradise Plants from large scale production plant nurseries typically start from around $30. There are numerous options up to $300+ if you’re looking for a larger and more mature (3 to 4 years+ old) Bird of Paradise plant complete with potting mix and planter.
Can bird of paradise grow in pots?
Yes, Bird of Paradise plants grows well in pots and planters both indoors and outdoors. Just ensure your potting vessel has drainage holes as stagnant water caused by over-watering can lead to root rot and fungal infections.
Are birds of paradise poisonous to dogs and cats?
Bird of Paradise Plants are toxic to pets and humans. Ingestion can lead to irritation throughout the digestive system.
How do you get birds of paradise to bloom?
Patience is key. With ideal growing conditions and plenty of exposure to bright light, the bird of paradise plant will typically bloom after 4 to 5 years.
Are birds of paradise easy to grow?
Yes, Birds of Paradise plants are generally considered easy to grow at home either indoors or outdoors. As with all plants, the key is to ensure your plant has exposure to suitable light conditions and receives a well-balanced watering and feeding cycle to provide the plant with the best opportunity to thrive in your home.