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Bird of Paradise looks exotic, but is drought tolerant


Last updated 11/28/2019 at 9:11pm

Roger Boddaert photos

The Strelitzia reginae is the best known orange flowering Bird of Paradise that grows all over Southern California.

Roger Boddaert

Special to Village News

Does the exotic-looking Bird of Paradise bring to mind faraway islands where palm trees sway and everyone drinks out of a coconut?

In Southern California gardens, the tropical-looking Bird of Paradise can give home gardeners a tidbit of that exotic getaway feeling.

The Strelitziaceae family is fairly small but is filled with some dramatic perennial low plants to towering giant-trunked trees out in the garden.

Strelitzia reginae is the traditional Bird of Paradise flowers residents are now seeing in the early blooming season. This drought-tolerant plant can be used for a tropical looking poolside planting or nestled amongst some boulders.

It's clean evergreen foliage and spectacular flower spikes that erupt out of the center of the blade-like leaves can look at home in many settings. Each individual flower has a colorful combination of a smooth creamy orange and a deep ocean blue which are very striking to the eye. I call them drama-queens out in the landscape.

These plants come from South Africa and live fairly close to the coastal influence. The plants flower in just the opposite of Fallbrook's equatorial conditions and are very happy around gardens in San Diego for wintertime color.

These plants were originally discovered by the famous plantsman Joseph Banks in 1733 and named after the Duchess of Mecklenburg Strelitz. The species name comes from the Latin word "reginae" meaning queen.

The Bird of Paradise was dedicated as the official Los Angeles city flower in 1952 by some avid horticulturists and the city fathers. The coral tree erythrina also from South Africa is the city's flowering tree.

From fall to springtime, Birds of Paradise are a very productive cut flower crop and plantations are dotted throughout frost-free growing areas of Fallbrook, Bonsall, Oceanside, North County and beyond.

Bird of Paradise plants can range from 4-6 feet in height and spread in width over time, so give them some space when planting them out in a landscape.

They can make excellent container plants for a while, but in time will have to be uplifted and set out into the garden. They are very appealing in wooden olive barrels or big terra-cotta containers.

I grow a lot of plants in containers in the nursery section of my garden and will move them out to a focal point that needs a little seasonal punch when they are at the highlight of their flowering season.

Landscaping is like decorating, and everyone does that all the time in their homes, rearranging items all the time; plants in potted containers can do that as well and add variations upon a theme.

Due to the flower's exotic and colorful look, they are shipped off to floral boutiques in New York, Chicago and other eastern cities as cut flowers and can fetch up to $15 per stem.

So, as the snow is falling, a single stem of Bird of Paradise can be a heart warmer and remembrance of that trip to Maui with the children many a moon ago.

When I arrange flowers, I love the Bird of Paradise's blue-green foliage and use them along with Proteas, Banksia, Leucodendron and pin-cushions. In combination, they make a handsome match.

Strelitzia Nicolai is the white flowering, giant Bird of Paradise tree form and, for this plant, there really must be room in the garden setting, for it can grow upward of 30-feet-plus for older specimens.

Its white flowers are borne within the large stalky leaves and will produce viable seeds if a gardener wants to grow some. Hummingbirds find the nectar attractive in these plants and will hover over the flowers for a sip or two. Isn't that interesting, a small hummingbird milking another form of a bird plant for sustenance?

Due to its largeness and height, the proper placement of the giant Bird of Paradise must be well thought out, and it can also be used as a plant screening element for a landscape.

The tropical look of both the smaller version and the larger version works well with many types of palms, plumerias, aloes, schefflera, large philodendrons succulents and bamboos. But, as with any landscape design, the gardener must figure out each plant's ultimate size as they mature. Once again, I say, "plan before you plant."

Strelitzia juncea (parviflora) is another form of the Bird of Paradise, but this plant has slender tubular leaves that do not look like a leaf at all. The flowers are just like the regular birds, but its tall, slender leaf stems have a small "spoonbill" at the tips. There is an extreme difference from leaf to leaf.

For those who are now interested in this plant family, "Mandela's Gold" Bird of Paradise is a hybrid cultivar that was in the breeding program for over 20 years at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

In lieu of the bright orange as the dominant color, these sepals have a soft subtle gold hue so the plant was named "Mandela's Gold" Bird of Paradise after Nelson Mandela.

The "Mandela's Gold" hybrid of the Bird of Paradise comes from South Africa.

A lot of these unique Bird of Paradise plants can be found at the Botanical Partners nursery in Vista just down the road; ask for Ralph.

The plant world is so varied that it has an incredible spectrum from the Northern Hemisphere to the dry plains, the humid rainforest and beyond. It's amazing what this earth supports in flora and fauna, and it is everyone's responsibility to tend and work on the preservation of every species that is left.

I hope everyone will do their part today in preserving and protecting the environment, for it's the only earthly we have.

Roger Boddaert is a landscape designer, horticulturist and certified arborist who has been creating beautiful and sustainable gardens in Southern California all his life. He can be reached at (760) 728-4297.


Reader Comments

variegatus63 writes:

I did a little Googling and found out that Botanical Partners Nursery (Bamboo Headquarters) in Vista has closed. Apparently, the owner retired. Great article, thanks.


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