Named after the Russian Emperor Nicholas I, Strelitzia nicolai, the 'White Bird of Paradise' is native to South Africa. It is a very dramatic, exotic-looking plant often found in subtropical parks and gardens worldwide. It can also be found in the lobbies of hotels and offices.
Strelitzia nicolai is an impressive tropical specimen, the foliage is large and sword like, rather like a banana tree and the trunk resembles a palm. The flower is white with a light blue 'tongue' and sits in a purplish bract, the boat like structure at the bottom of the flower. The impressive large glossy leaves are sometimes used as plates to serve food in restaurants.
The White Bird of Paradise has has grown in popularity for indoor use over the last 30 years. It can be grown outdoors in warm climates, otherwise in a warm greenhouse or conservatory. It makes an excellent container plant or as an accent or border plant, the large white blooms with deep purple edging make it a show-stopper.
Sowing: Sow indoors at any time of year.
Before sowing, remove the bright orange tuft of hairs attached to the seed (aril of each seed), the hard seeds can be scarified (nicked or scratched) to decrease germination time. To scarify, soak the seeds in lukewarm water for several hours, and then nick them with a knife or small file. Scarified seeds will germinate in two to three months.
Another way to decrease germination time is to put un-scarified seeds in a plastic bag and place them in a refrigerator at 4°C (40°F) for two weeks. Then scarify and sow them.
Sow in seed trays filled with a well-drained soil medium at a depth of 12mm (½in)
Keep at a constant temperature of 25°C (77°F) low temperatures retard germination. Germination takes four to eight weeks.
The soil mix must be kept consistently damp until the seeds germinate. To ensure a moist, humid environment, cover the seed container with a sheet of glass or clear plastic and place it in indirect light.
Seedlings should be a good size before transplanted (two to three leaves) into a well drained medium. Young Strelitzia plants must be grown in shade, for the leaves tend to burn in direct sunlight. Regular repotting allows the young plant to develop rapidly. Restricting the root development retards growth.
Strelitzia is an easy plant to grow in the garden. Plants do well in full sun to semi-shade, love a rich loamy soil and plenty of water throughout the year. They respond well to regular feeding with a slow release fertiliser and compost. They are very tolerant plants and will thrive in most soils and can survive with very little water once established. They are also wind resistant and grow well in coastal gardens.
The plants are sensitive to cold and in areas with frosts would need a sheltered position. In cold climates it is better to grow them in pots that could be moved indoors when frosts are expected. As soon as the frosts finish for the winter, you may place the plant outside in a sheltered south facing garden. They tend to do well when temperatures do not drop below 10°C (50°F) and do very well in a greenhouse/conservatory.
Tips for growing in a temperate climate:
Overwintering - One of the main points with exotic plants is to avoid frost. Keep in a warm, well lit area. Stop feeding the plants to allow them to become dormant. Do not overwater in the dormant season/winter. Wet soil is cold soil.
Springtime: - Feed the plant well once growth starts again. Feed regularly throughout the growing season but do not over-feed otherwise your plants will just grow foliage and no flowers.
From seed, plants given ideal conditions will flower within 3 years. To get a mature flowering plant from seed takes about three to five years. They usually start to come into flower at Christmas time and sometimes later in the summer months. The flower spikes take a few months to grow full size, but then open gradually, taking a few weeks, to a few months to open up to reveal their famous flowers.
The bird of paradise plant should be watered thoroughly but then allowed to dry out almost completely before re-watering. They don’t like to be over-watered, and in the rest period (winter) they should only be watered when the soil is almost completely bone dry. When growing begins in the Spring they should be given phostrogen feed once every two weeks, to encourage new growth.
During the summer months, Strelitzia require as much sunlight and ventilation as possible. Feed once a week with a phostrogen feed in summer to help encourage new leaves and flower spikes.
As soon as the roots start to stretch the pot wider, it would then be wise to pot the plant up into the next size pot. They tend to do very well in loam-based compost with either grit or bark chippings to aid drainage. The optimum pH is 6.5.
Strelitzia nicolai is native to evergreen coastal forest and thicket of eastern South Africa from the Great Fish River northwards to Richards Bay. It is also considered native to Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and is reportedly naturalised in eastern Mexico.
It is considerably bigger than Strelitzia reginae, potentially reaching 6m (20ft tall). It has vivid white flowers and a black beak. The leaves as well as being bigger and longer than S. reginae's, tend to be shinier and greener. The glossy leaves are sometimes used as plates to serve food in restaurants.
There are two species of the White Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia nicolai and Strelitzia alba: Strelitzia nicolai is semi-common in cultivation. The trunks grow to 30ft and are clumping. The plants flower regularly each spring once mature. Whereas Strelitzia alba is rare in cultivation. The trunks grow to 18ft and rarely clump. Unfortunately the plants rarely or intermittently flower once mature.
In 1773 Sir Joseph Banks brought back this spectacular new plant to Kew Gardens from South Africa. He named the exotic-looking plant Strelitzia in honour of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, (1744-1818). Queen Charlotte was an amateur botanist and lived at Kew for many years. Her husband King George III inherited the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens in 1772.
The species name is for the Russian Emperor, Nicholas I of Russia (1796-1855).
Pronounced streh-LIT-see-uh NICK-oh-lye, it is commonly called the White Bird of Paradise or the White Strelitzia.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Strelitziaceae Genus Strelitzia Species nicolai Common Name White Bird of Paradise Other Common Names Crane flower, Geel Piesang Hardiness Tender Perennial Flowers White with Blue, 30cm (12in) long blooms Natural Flower Time September thru to May Foliage Evergreen, Grey-green banana-like leaves Height To 750cm (25ft) in 5 years Spread 200cm (60in) Position Full sun to partial shade Soil Fertile, well drained Time to Sow Sow indoors at any time of year Germination Keep at a constant temperature of 25°C (77°F)