With their tufted heads and eerie beaks, all kinds of bird of paradise flowers (Strelitzia spp.) Are showstoppers in themselves.
Even when they're not in bloom, the silky evergreen foliage is attractive and adds texture and interest all year round. Because these plants originated in South Africa, they thrive in warm, humid regions and are popular in tropical and subtropical locations around the world.
All species thrive in USDA hardiness zones 10-12 and sometimes parts of zone 9 if you keep them warm during the winter months. You can grow them as houseplants in colder areas or as outdoor plants in summer and indoors in winter.
However, there are some significant differences between bird of paradise plants that you should consider before choosing one (or three) plants for indoor or outdoor use.
In this guide, I'm going to cover everything you need to know so that you don't accidentally plant a 30-foot plant in your 1,500-square-foot home.
You will discover:
Demystifying the different species of birds of paradise
The five Strelitzia species
This showy plant belongs to the Strelitziaceae family and there are five main species in the Strelitzia genus. Some make perfect potted plants, like the relatively short S. juncea and S. reginae.
Others, like S. nicolai, are a massive, impactful piece of landscaping in popular theme parks like Disneyland.
The five types are:
1. S. alba
Along with S. nicolai and S. caudata, S. alba is one of three tree-like Strelizia species.
These evergreen herbaceous perennials can reach shocking heights under optimal conditions. Think 30 feet or bigger!
Often referred to as the white-flowered banana plant due to its white flowers and banana-like leaves, S. alba blooms from July to December in the northern hemisphere.
These imposing plants grow wild in the coastal regions of the Western Cape region of South Africa and in Madagascar.
2. S. caudata
S. caudata, also known as "mountain wild banana", grows wild in the mountains of southern Africa, from South Africa to Swaziland to Zimbabwe.
It has the flair of the Traveler's Palm (Ravenala madagascariensis), a related species from the same family, and the foliage style of a banana plant.
S. caudata grows up to 20 feet tall and has black-billed, white-tufted flowers.
3. S. juncea
S. juncea, also known as the narrow-leafed bird of paradise, is very similar to the most common species, S. reginae, but its leaves are reed-like instead of banana-shaped.
The orange and blue flowers are slightly smaller than those of S. reginae.
This species grows to three to six feet in height and makes a lovely cut flower or border in a tropical style garden.
Originally considered a variety of S. reginae, it was discovered in 1974 after genetic research by Dr. Hendrik Albertus van de Venter of the University of Pretoria in South Africa classified as S. juncea.
This species is also ideal for indoor growing. If you set them up outside in the summer and bring them in when the temperature drops, you'll enjoy blooms and pretty green foliage during the warmer months to keep company while it's cold outside.
4. S. nicolai
Like S. alba, S. nicolai resembles a banana plant and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Which is still huge, but smaller than S. alba.
S. nicolai plants are often referred to as a giant white bird of paradise and have white flowers with dark blue-gray "beaks".
S. nicolai is an excellent piece of outdoor landscaping for anyone living in zones 10-12. Use it as a border to create a natural fence between you and the street, or you and a neighbor!
5. S. reginae
Meet the most beautiful species of all, the orange flowering S. reginae, which was a staple of the landscape at the university I attended in Southern California.
Since it grows to a much more manageable mature height of only five to six feet, it is easier to spot the orange clusters of flowers on S. reginae than to see the flowers of larger plants in the genus.
This species blooms back and forth year-round, but like its sister species, it can suffer when temperatures drop below freezing.
Successful in warm, mild Florida, anyway requires protection from the cold in the northern part of the state.
The same goes for Strelitzias, which are grown in cooler areas of California. This makes it an ideal houseplant in winter – or all year round if you live in a place colder than zone 9.
Bring home the happy tropics
The world's most commonly grown bird of paradise species are S. alba, S. juncea, S. nicolai and S. reginae.
S. caudata mainly grows in the wild. So if you ever visit the stunning mountains of southern Africa, look out for these!
Now that you can tell the five species apart, it's time to choose the best varieties to plant at home, and don't forget to consult ours Guide to the growing bird of paradise to learn more.
What kind of bird of paradise do you grow? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share a picture!
And for more information about unique flowers To grow in your garden, read the guides below:
About Laura Melchor
Laura Melchor grew up helping her mother with the garden in Montana, and as an adult she brought her cold-weather gardening skills back home in Alaska. She is especially proud of the flower beds that she and her three-year-old son built using stones excavated from their small Alaskan homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs on the internet. Laura also writes novels and has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.