There is nothing quiet or sublime about the bird of paradise plant. Like a noisy bird perched within a clump of leaves, its colorful petals all but call out for attention. Five bird of paradise species exist, all producing flowers of differing colors.
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The most common of the species, the Strelitzia reginae, has the traditional orange and blue flowers and grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10-12 and the warmer areas of zone 9. Least common is the white-flowered Strelitzia alba, favored by the artist Georgia O'Keeffe and prominent in one of her more popular paintings. Even more rare is the Strelitzia nicolai, a giant plant featuring blue and white flowers.
Bird of Paradise History
Traveling from the southeast coast of South Africa, the bird of paradise was introduced to English gardens in 1773 when specimens of the exotic flowering plant were brought to the famous Kew Gardens in South London. The genus was named for the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte Sophie Mecklenburg-Strelitz who greatly admired and lived near Kew Gardens.
It took nearly 75 years for the bird of paradise to immigrate to California, and in 1853, it was introduced to the Montecito area of Santa Barbara, and 100 years later, it was named the official flower of Los Angeles. So prestigious is the flowering plant that in South Africa, it has become a ceremonial flower of honor and is featured on a coin. It is the coat of arms of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is also found off the coast of Chile and throughout Mexico.
Propagate Bird of Paradise Through Rhizomes
The easiest way to propagate a bird of paradise is through its rhizomes. As the roots develop, rhizomes are created. Similar in appearance to a ginger root found in grocery stores, the rhizome stores starches and proteins, enabling it to reproduce asexually. The best time to harvest the rhizome is when you are transplanting the plant, and the preferred season is the late spring or early summer. Cut through the root ball, leaving at least one stem attached.
Plant the newly separated section back in the earth at the same depth from which it was removed or plant it in a pot at least 12 inches deep, keeping the newly planted root level with the surface. The bird of paradise likes to be root-bound, so don't give the roots too much room to venture out. Moisten the planting medium but don't water again for several days. This gives the new root system time to develop. Fertilize after three months with organic manure and repeat in three months. Flowering occurs in one to three years.
Propagate Bird of Paradise via Seeds
A more complex method of propagation is through the bird of paradise seeds. They are slow to germinate and take four to seven years to bloom. Select a healthy bloom and wait until it turns brown and starts to wilt. Inside is a seed pod. Remove the pod and open it to reveal a bit of orange fluff and some black seeds. Separate the seeds from the fluff and drop them onto a paper plate. Put the plate in a well-ventilated and dry area and wait until the seeds themselves are dry.
Place the dried seeds inside an envelope, seal it and refrigerate the seeds until you are ready to plant. Don't wait too long, as the seeds have a relatively short life. When you are ready to plant, soak the seeds in room-temperature water for three days before transferring them to soil. Sticking a bird of paradise leaf in water won't help in propagating. The seeds and rhizomes are the vessels for propagation.
Plant the seeds in well-moistened soil at a depth of 1 inch and place the pot in a warm spot with indirect light. Cover with plastic wrap to maintain humidity and then wait. Within one year, you should see a sprout.