A study in curves, angles and contrasting colors, fully opened bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia spp.) flowers may be among nature's most artistic creations. Incorporating their exotic appearance in a floral design, however, can require doing what nature sometimes won't: completely open bird-of-paradise flowers after they have been cut from the plant. Opening the beaklike sheaths to release their brilliant, orange and blue flowers isn't difficult, but it requires advance preparation.
Although white or giant bird-of-paradise (Strelitziae nicolai) produces showy, blue-and-white-petaled blooms, the blooms' enormous size makes them unsuitable for use as cut flowers. The commercially available orange-and-blue bird-of-paradise cut flowers come from the bird-of-paradise plant also called crane flower (Strelitzia reginae). Both plants are perennial in U. S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11.
Purchase bird-of-paradise flowers with closed or barely open sheaths, or beaks. If a hint of orange isn't visible through an opening, the florets may have been removed.
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Hydrating the Flowers
The technique of hydrating bird-of-paradise flowers applies only to flowers that weren't hydrated at a flower shop.
Things You'll Need
- Vase large enough to hold the flowers and heavy enough to balance their hydrated weight
Water between 85 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sharp, clean knife or stem cutters
- Rubbing alcohol
Fill a large, heavy vase halfway with water that is between 85 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove all tape or netting from the flowers' sheaths.
Cut 1 inch from the base of an individual flower's stalk by using a sharp, clean knife or stem cutters, and immediately place the stalk in the vase's warm water. Repeat the procedure for each flower stalk, but disinfect the knife or stem cutters in rubbing alcohol before each cut. If the vase becomes top-heavy, add water between 85 and 100 F to balance it.
Disinfect the knife or stem cutters after you finish cutting.
Wait at least two hours for the flowers to hydrate fully.
If the flowers were already hydrated at a flower shop, simply trim the base of their flower stalks, place them in a vase of warm water as you would the non-hydrated flowers, and then proceed to open them.
Opening the Flowers
Remove one flower from the vase, and "unzip" the length of stringy material holding its sheath closed. If the string is missing, insert your forefinger in the seam at the stalk or stem end, and slowly work it toward the point of the sheath. Apply just enough pressure to open the sheath just barely. Let the weight of the hydrated flower do most of the work.
Insert your fingers in the sheath's opening, and widen it enough to see the flowers.
Grasp the top floret gently with your thumb and forefinger, and carefully pull it through the opening. Put the stem back in the vase to hydrate.
Repeat the procedure for each bird-of-paradise flower you wish to open.
Each sheath typically contains four to six florets. Once the first is out, the others follow naturally over several days as long as the flower remains hydrated. To speed the process, work just one or two more florets out of the sheath as you did the first floret. For the most natural look, let the remaining florets expand on their own.
Caring for the Flowers
With the right care, cut bird-of-paradise flowers last one to two weeks. Proper care includes:
- Adding the appropriate amount of commercial floral preservative to the water. Commercial preservatives contain antibacterial and acidifying compounds that keep the water clean, and they have carbohydrates that feed the flowers.
- Emptying the vase every three days, cleaning it with mild dish soap, rinsing it with clean water and refilling it with warm water and floral preservative.
- Cutting the stems back by 1/2 inch before returning them to the cleaned, refilled vase. Cutting removes possibly clogged tissues from the stems' ends, which helps the stems take up water more easily.
- Displaying the vase of flowers out of direct sunlight in a place that stays above 50 F.
One manufacturer recommends using 1 teaspoon of its floral preservative for every 1 quart, or 4 cups, of water. Use the amount suggested in the directions for the brand of floral preservative you choose.