Graceful and distinctive, the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), with its bright orange flowers, tinted with blue, resembling feather-crowned birds adds a touch of the tropics to any location -- indoors or out. Sometimes grown as a houseplant, this flowering perennial thrives outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 10 through 12. Generally hardy, easy to care for and pest-free, the bird of paradise may occasionally suffer from ailments that cause leaves and stems to rot and fall.
Something is Rotten in Paradise
Root rot, a soil-borne fungal disease, destroys the roots of Bird of Paradise. It can be caused by any number of fungi. Overwatering or poorly draining soil is usually the cause of root rot. The disease may also develop if containers holding the plant do not have drainage holes or if the drainage holes are blocked. Outdoor plants are susceptible to root rot when growing in a depression or other location that collects standing water.
Stems and Leaves the Last to Know
Fungi attacking the roots renders them helpless to absorb nutrients and water. After the roots turn to mush, the above-ground parts suffer. The big, shiny green leaves of the Bird of Paradise curl up, and the stems begin droop. The stems may rot before they fall. Although bacterial wilt may also cause leaves to curl up or droop, it does not cause stems to rot and fall. The main stems of plants infected with bacterial wilt usually remain straight and tall, according to Penn State Extension.
Too Far Gone?
By the time root rot is severe enough to affect the stems of the plant, it is usually too late to save the plant, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. At this point, the roots are probably too far gone to be able to nourish the plant any longer: It might be in your best interest to discard the plant. But not just yet. If your bird of paradise is small enough to be easily transplanted, and some of the roots look firm, white and healthy, try transplanting it. If it is in a container, use sterilized potting soil that is well-draining, and use a new pot -- the old one might still be harboring traces of fungi. Make sure the new pot has drainage holes on the bottom. It's probably not a good idea to transplant an in-ground plant to a new location in your garden -- many garden soils contain the fungi that cause root rot, according to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.
Ounce of Prevention
In the case of root rot, prevention is key. And in this case an ounce of prevention really is quite simple: Don't overwater or allow your bird of paradise to sit in water. A bird of paradise plant should be watered only enough to keep the soil barely moist during the growing season. During the winter, the soil should be allowed to dry to the touch before the plant is watered again. A bird of paradise plant should be cultivated in a pot with good drainage, or in an area of the garden that drains well. Once established, they can tolerate drought, so err on the side of dry soil if you are unsure about how much water your mature plant needs. The bird of paradise grows well in full sunlight or partial shade and is wind-resistant, making it a good choice for windy landscapes.
- University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service: Bird-of-Paradise
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Bird of Paradise
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Strelitzia Reginae
- Bachman's: Bird of Paradise
- University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension: Root Rots on Houseplants
- University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension Service: Root Rot of Houseplants
- Penn State Extension: Bacterial Wilt - Ralstonia Solanacearum
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images