WHATS BLOOMIN’ IN PARADISE? a gardeners journey
First impression: Exotic egret head in profile-shaped flower of creamy ivory, vibrant blues, and a sprinkle of magenta. The blossom is extra large, measuring 15-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 stacked pattern in between the leaves and continues five and six high. I am in awe of this double-story, tall, tropically unique plant. What a show stopper, 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: Traveler’s Tree is an evergreen tree like herb that hails from Madagascar. It’s in the Bird of Paradise (Strelitziaceae) family so it’s grown for its lush foliage and beautiful tropical flowers. This iconic plant is a must for our gardens, with flowers blooming throughout the year. The calyx (feather like flower) is shimmery, creamy, and greenish white, which sits in a gynormous vivid green 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 spiked flowers appear to be peeking thru the foliage. After a closer look, you realize they are stacked in an alternating fashion 10 or 12 high. The leaves are long, tall, and paddle shaped. They are arranged in a fan-like manner. These arrangements of leaves are connected at the base forming a large clump, which eventually maturity will turn into a palm like trunk. New babies appear as tiny clumps on the outside of the plant from suckers. I prefer to keep my Travelers trees solitary for lots of drama. 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 30 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 Traveler’s Trees and White Bird of Paradise. Here are some cues for success: White Bird has a whorl pattern to the leaves and Travelers Tree flowers are creamy not huge white one. Still a great habitat plant because, birds drink from the flower bases. They are enjoying the collected water and the flowers nectar. Bird ala bird!
Pros: Great tall dramatic shrub – Likes full sun 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 trimmed of pups Need to trim away spent blooms Leaves split in winds Don’t let neighbors steal flowers Non native.
Conclusion: Bring out those 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!