Hartley Magazine

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Bird of Paradise plant, Strelitzia

Here’s a really lovely conservatory plant with a bit of a drawback. For once it’s not a poor name, though it’s origin is actually obscure enough to win a Mastermind contest: Strelitzia reginae is named after the 1761 marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Similar in many ways and closely resembling the banana family this is a small genus of semi shrubby natives of southern Africa. Originally found as bushy clumps in coastal districts they have now been spread world wide for commercial floristry in almost every frost free country and are popular in warm conservatories for their ease of culture and flamboyant flowers. In fact this is surprisingly a hardy plant, even if only just so and if dryish and well established can endure very short cold spells of as much as -2°C, as are occasionally found during S. African winters. Although happiest in the ground where it can reach two metres high and half as much across it is really quite easy to grow in a container under cover where it usually reaches only half to a third that size or less. The Bird of Paradise needs a rich moist soil, preferably with plenty of leaf mould and other than being kept well watered in summer with plenty of liquid feed and frost free in winter it needs little special attention. Indeed that is fortunate for I still have not mentioned it’s only drawback; it is staggeringly slow to bloom, and as it is grown for the flowers this is serious. Now you can buy a large older plant and gain advantage, even getting one already in bloom but from seed and small plants I’ve found six or seven year waits are to be expected before the first flower appears- honest. Well worth it though as once they start to come they will continue and may bloom in autumn, winter and spring. The remarkably bird like blooms are orange and blue emerging from a green and red head like ‘pod’. And the trick is as each bloom starts to fade you simply pull the next one from out of the pod. Thus their great value in flower arranging as they last so well. But if you ever travel to S Africa, or visit a botanic garden with a large conservatory you may get to see an interesting, less glitzy, relative S. nicolai, this has the same form of flowers but in sophisticated white and pale blue, which unfortunately, so we really can’t grow them, come on the 10metre high ‘banana’ like trees.