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What’s Blooming In Paradise: White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)

By Staff | Aug 26, 2011

First impression: Exotic egret head in profile shaped flower of snow white, vibrant blues, and a sprinkle of magenta. The blossom is extra large measuring 12 inches long. Its long stemmed dark green leaves resemble the shape of a banana plant. All plant growth starts at the base; the flowers emerge in a fan shaped area of leaves and continue in a spiral up and up. I am in awe of this double story tall, tropical, unique plant. What a showstopper, any ornithologist would take a second look! You can see this non-winged wonder in bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: White Bird of Paradise is an evergreen tree like herb that hails from South Africa. It is grown for its lush foliage and beautiful tropical flowers. This iconic plant is a must for our gardens, with flowers blooming through out the year. The calyx (feather like flower) is shimmery white and surround three fused petals are dark blue. All this petal plumage emerges from a vivid blue canoe shaped bract (spathe) at the base of a whorl of leaves. The edge of this spathe is frosted in a crimson burgundy. WOW! The large substantial flowers appear to be Great Egret profiles peeking through the foliage. After a closer look, you realize they are an explosion of feather-shaped floral beauty. The leaves are long, tall and paddle shaped. They are arranged in a spiral – fan like manner. These arrangements of leaves are connected at the base forming a large clump. New babies appear as tiny clumps on the outside of the plant from suckers and fallen seeds. Year after year these many individual plants will appear as one humongous White Bird. You can count on minimal maintenance, new pups occur around the base in a clumping manner, which can grow wider or be divided by a shovel and a lot of muscle. After blooming be sure to clean out the old blossoms, which will start to smell if left unattended. Maximum height for this fast grower is a whopping 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide, so plan for appropriate site. You may plant in full sun or filtered shade, and well-drained soil. Avoid planting in a windy area; its leaves will split when under lots of breeze. It is a non-invasive exotic with little or no pests or diseases. The most common dilemma I hear about our star is confusion between White birds and Banana plants. Here are some cues for success: Bananas do not have a spiral or whorl pattern of leaves. Bananas has a fan pattern of leaves. White birds will never bear bananas- lol! Great habitat plant because, birds drink from the flower bases. They are enjoying the collected water and the flowers’ nectar. Bird ala bird!

Interesting Trivia: Did you know, we have several species of Bird of Paradise? Our star is just one of 3 popular garden additions. Orange Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) is a replica that is 3-4 feet tall with orange bird blooms. Travelers Tree (Ravenala madagascariensis), can reach 30ft and resembles banana leaves in a symmetrical fan with ginormous bird blossoms.

Pros: Great tall dramatic shrub – Likes full sun Can be divided and planted other places or share with neighbors Non invasive May have bird watcher in your garden – Salt tolerance Will fill in unsightly areas with little effort Birds love it!

Cons: Needs to be separated periodically Can get dead foliage/ trim away Need to trim away spent blooms Leaves split in winds Don’t let neighbors steal flowers Non native.

Conclusion: Bring out the binoculars-there are birds blooming in the bushes. No need to worry, they won’t fly away in our tropical eye catching garden.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!