Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
The bird of paradise plant looks exotic, but it is one of the most popular houseplants. Properly cared for, it will reward you with year-round bloom.
What are Bird of Paradise Plants?
The bird of paradise is native to South Africa where it is known as Crane Flowers. It derives its name, bird of paradise, from its resemblance to the bird of paradise which is actually native to New Guinea. The plant is a cousin of the banana tree. Here in the US, it is only hardy in zones 9 through 11. It can only be grown outdoors in those areas. The rest of us grow it as a houseplant.
The plants are evergreen and large, growing 5 to 6 feet tall. They lack stems. The leaves, which look like banana leaves, emerge directly from the soil. The plants grow in clumps which increase in size every year through the growth of underground rhizomes.
Bird of paradise plants do not bloom until they are 4 or 5 years old. The plants flower year-round, but produce the most flowers in winter and early spring. The flowers grow on stems. At the top of the stem is a spathe, which resembles a bird’s head. The flowers grow out of the spathe. The flowers themselves consist of three purple-blue petals which contain the reproductive parts of the flower and three orange sepals which protect the petals.
Bird of paradise plants are pollinated by birds, not insects. Sunbirds, primarily the Cape Weaver, are the birds that pollinate the plants. The spathe provides a sturdy perch for the sunbirds. When the birds land on it, the petals open and the birds’ feet are covered with pollen which fertilizes the next flower that the bird lands on.
How to Grow Bird of Paradise Outdoors
If you live in tropical area, at least zone 9, you can grow bird of paradise plants outdoors. You can grow them as single specimen plants or in a grouping. These are large plants, so be sure to space them at least 6 feet apart. They grow in full sun or light shade. They actually do best in light shade where the leaves and the flowers will be larger. If grown in full sun, the leaves and the flowers are smaller, but the plants will produce more flowers.
Keep your plants well-watered for the first six months after planting. Once they are established in your yard, you can cut back to watering only when the top 1 inch of soil becomes dry. They are originally from South Africa, which is very dry, so they don’t like to be too wet.
Fertilize every 3 months during the growing season with a 12-4-8 fertilizer. Stop fertilizing during the winter months.
How to Grow a Bird of Paradise as a Houseplant
Because it does not require full sun, bird of paradise can be grown as a houseplant. Place it near your sunniest window. A south-facing or west-facing window is best. Be careful of drafts during the winter. 65⁰F to 75⁰F temperature range is ideal.
Keep the soil evenly moist during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter, you can allow the top 1 inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Mist your plant every day. Our homes are too dry even for this drought loving plant. You can move your plant outdoors in the summer, but be sure to place it somewhere where it will be lightly shaded.
Fertilize every other week beginning in March using a water soluble fertilizer that is formulated for flowering houseplants. After September, cut back to monthly fertilizing so that the plant can rest during the winter.
Bird of paradise plants have to be 4 to 5 years old before they will bloom. They also need to be pot-bound or they will not bloom. If you re-pot them, they will not bloom again for 1 to 2 years. A good rule of thumb is that plants that are 3 to 4 feet tall, grow best in 10-inch pots. Plants that are 5 to 7 feet tall grow best in 14-inch pots. Bird of paradise plants do not shed their spent blossoms. Once your plant starts blooming, be sure to remove all the dead flowers and leaves to keep the plants looking tidy.
How to Grow a Bird of Paradise From Divisions
Here in the US, we do not have sunbirds to pollinate our plants outdoors nor would there be any birds indoors to pollinate the flowers to produce seeds. You can pollinate by hand if you wish but most of us propagate our plants through division.
Wait until your plant has bloomed for 1 to 2 years before attempting to divide it. Gently dig up your plant if it is outdoors or remove it from its pot if it is a houseplant. Choose a shoot that has at least three leaves. Using a sharp knife, cut the rhizome midway between the main plant and the shoot. Plant the division either directly in your garden or in its own 10 inch container. Water well for 6 months while it is settling into its new home. Divisions will bloom in 3 to 5 years. They need that time to grow into their pot. The main plant may not bloom again for another 1 to 2 years.
It is not necessary to divide your plant regularly, whether you are growing it indoors or outdoors. Bird of paradise plants grow and bloom best when they are either pot-bound (overcrowded) or growing in a thick clump outdoors. Any time you divide your plant, you are setting back the bloom cycle 1 to 2 years.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can Bird of Paradise be grown in Oakland?
Answer: Bird of Paradise can be grown outdoors year-round in growing zones 9 - 11. Oakland, CA is in growing zone 9b so you can grow yours outdoors year-round. Enjoy!
Question: Can you grow Bird of Paradise from seeds?
Answer: Yes, bird of paradise can be grown from seed. Here in the US, we do not grow the plants from seed because the birds that are necessary to pollinate our plants only live in South Africa, so our plants do not produce seeds.
Question: I'm in Missouri. Can I leave Bird of Paradise flowers outside in the ground during winter?
Answer: No, the winters are too cold in Missouri. Bird of paradise plants are tropical plants, only hardy in zones 9 - 11. I don't know where in Missouri that you live, but the warmest part in the south is only zone 7, much too cold for these plants in the winter.
© 2019 Caren White
Caren White (author) on January 22, 2020:
I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Thank you for stopping by.
Shirley Shofner on January 22, 2020:
Wonderful and informative article.