Caring for Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia)
Bird of Paradise is a great indoor houseplant choice for filling a wide, tall, well-lit space. It has a nice symmetrical shape and large oval-shaped canopy-type leaves. Often referred to as banana plant, since the leaves do have a very similar shape to those of a banana tree, Strelitzia is a much hardier choice to be kept as an indoor houseplant.
The Bird of Paradise got its name from the flowers that are produced from many varieties resembling the plumage of a bird called the Bird of Paradise. Most Strelitzia kept as houseplants do not bloom—some because of the variety, and some because indoor conditions just don't provide enough light to trigger the plant to produce a bloom—so most are kept for their lush foliage.
Strelitzia are fairly easy to keep, but there are a few things to know to keep them in optimum condition.
Indoors, these plants are going to perform best in moderate to high interior lighting conditions where at least some natural light is available. Diffused natural sunlight is best.
In too low of a light, the plant will have difficulty processing its water. It will become leggy, and its color may turn pale.
Strelitzia can tolerate high, direct light, but be very careful that the leaves do not touch a hot window or they will easily burn. In very high light, Strelitzia will become a vigourous drinker, so attention must be paid to make sure that it is well-watered on a regular basis. This additional light may also increase the growth of Strelitzia, so fertilizing a couple times a year in recommended doses would be well-advised for a Bird of Paradise in such an environment.
Bird of Paradise plants have deep, well-established root systems that fill their pots. A good thorough watering until water passes out the bottom of the pot is best, followed by a drying period in between. A Bird of Paradise does not like to stay moist for extended amounts of time, so be careful that it does not get watered too frequently or the unsightly brown crunchy leaf ends will develop on the leaves. The plant will do best if it is allowed to have the fluctuation between deep thorough watering and thorough drying.
If a plant has been under watered or has been dry for too long, it will produce solid yellow leaves, usually starting on the leaves furthest from the center.
Native Habitat of Bird of Paradise: Eastern Cape South Africa
Just a few tips to keep your Bird of Paradise looking vibrant and pest-free:
- Like with most plants, it is a good idea to clean the leaves of your Bird of Paradise. The best method is to gently hand wipe the large leaves. The leaves easily rip; the ripped leaves for this plant in its natural habitat are very normal, since the leaves fray from the wind blowing them around. So some ripping is all right when you handle your Strelitzia, but if you are too rough and tear in the wrong spot, it can cause more unsightly brown splotches to the leaves. Be gentle.
- Bird of Paradise plants do not frequently get pests, but if they do it is most common to find them with Mealy Bug or scale. Mealy bugs will usually be down in the center of the plant where new fronds are released and nestled down between the frond stems. Scale will generally show up on the stems and the backs of the leaves.
- Remove dead, dying or old leaves to incite new growth. A Strelitzia, once acclimated, will generally get to a point of balance when it has just the right amount of fronds to use resources and collect light. In order to generate new growth, you can cut off one of the leaves furthest from the center. The plant will send signals to generate a new frond from the center to replace the one that was removed. This is not absolutely necessary but can refresh the look of your Bird if it is looking dull.
- When a Bird sends out a new frond, it will emerge from the center coiled up around the stem. As difficult as it may be to restrain yourself, you should avoid helping the leaf unravel. It takes some time for this process to complete itself. If you start trying to manipulate the leaf before it is ready, you can do unnecessary damage by not allowing the leaf to toughen as it opens. Allow nature to take its course.
- If fronds have been removed, be sure to gently pull away the dead stem base as it drys. The base of these stems can constrict as they dry, and, if multiple layers are left, they can begin to choke off the viable fronds in the center. These small dead leftovers can also be the harbinger of other bug problems, such as fungus gnats.
A little background information combined with some attention to detail will result in a long-lived, lovely houseplant that can last for a lifetime and then some.
Questions & Answers
When can Strelitzia be replanted?
As long as your plant has a healthy root structure, and is in stable condition, it should tolerate a repoting. It is best to repot in the active growing season which is usually spring to early summer. I would recommend only repoting if there is a need to do so, repoting can be necessary, but is also very stressful for a plant, so it is good to compare need vs. risk before choosing to do so.Helpful 6
The leaves away from the center of my Bird of Paradise are curling and folding. There are no pests, and it is not root bound. What could be the problem?
Curling, folding, and splitting fronds on a Bird of Paradise are normal. With temperature changes, water fluctuation, and age the leaves will sometimes curl on the edges spiraling slightly back in the direction they unraveled. The fronds will also split apart with movement or contact.Helpful 9
My outdoor Strelitzia has flowers that appear dead, yet still have orange centers. Do I peel off dead areas, or dead head the entire stem?
It is best to remove the entire flower stem included.
My Bird of Paradise plant is springing four new leaves, two of which seem to have prematurely opened. They’re yellow/green, and feel a bit weaker on the light colored side while the naturally green side of the leaves feel strong as they should be. Is this a result of lack of nutrients? If so, how do I treat this during the winter? I’ve come across articles that advise against fertilizing the soil during dormant months.
Four new fronds are quite an achievement for a Bird of Paradise indoors, congratulations! It is normal for the new fronds to be more fragile and lighter in color than the existing fronds, as they unravel and the surface becomes fully exposed to the air they will begin to strengthen, and the color will change on its own. The best course of action, allow it to develop naturally.
What if a frond of a Bird of Paradise plant starts to unravel too early? I have a frond that's unraveling, but it hasn't grown tall or long enough, and the base of the leaf is still inside the center of the plant.
If a new leaf begins to open prematurely all you can do is wait for it to grow out. The plant should correct the problem over time.