Strelitzia x reginae: Bird of Paradise Flower, Crane Plant

It is not too long ago that the selection at the florist’s included greater quantities of cut flowers resembling exotic birds in flight — strelitzias. Though they are not particularly difficult to grow, it is only recently that nuserymen have succeeded in raising lower-growing forms (less than 1 m [3 ft] high). Otherwise they are plants almost twice that height and thus too large for home cultivation.

Strelitzia reginae from South Africa does not develop a stem, but forms clumps of greyish-blue leaves approximately 80 cm (32 in) long, with thick stalks about 120 cm (4 ft) long. The blades are long, oval and curved like a spoon at the tip. The flowers, protruding from spathes borne on stems the same length as the leaves, are coloured brilliant orange and blue. Shorter forms were not obtained by crossbreeding but by selection from sowings; they are thus clones and hybrids from these clones, which may be multiplied only by vegetative means.

The other species of Strelitzia are not suitable for home decoration because of their great size (the only exception being the one in the line-drawing which is not generally cultivated). Their stems, which become woody, may reach up to 5 m (16 ft) in height, such as S. nicolai. The only one with possible prospects is S. parvifolia, likewise stemless, with short leaf blades and only slightly less striking flowers of the same colour as S. reginae. Its growth, however, is slow and it is rarely found in cultivation.

Strelitzias are generally grown from seed but may also be propagated by division of larger clumps. Seedlings reach flower-bearing size in their third year.

Cultivation is not difficult but the grower must have a conservatory or other well-lit but cool (about 10°C [50°F]) place for overwintering the plants. The container should be relatively large, the compost very rich — a mixture of loam, rotted turves, cow manure and sand. To this, coarse stone rubble should be added for rapid drainage of excess water. John Innes potting compost No. 3 would be a suitable alternative. Liberal watering and regular feeding throughout the growing period are a must. When dividing clumps the cuts should be dusted with charcoal powder and left to dry; care should also be taken not to damage the roots for otherwise they are liable to rot.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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