Story of the Strelitzia
Strelitzia is an eye-catching plant with tropical flare that lives up to its nickname of the “Bird of Paradise”. The plant has upright stems and sturdy upward-pointing greyish leaves. Strelitzia reginae’s eye-catching inflorescence is characterised by horizontal bracts from which orange and dark blue petals arise. The plant flowers very late in the season because the large flowers need more time to develop. September is therefore the ideal month to purchase this late bloomer, although even without flowers the plant is a magnificent houseplant thanks to the attractive long upward-pointing leaves.
Strelitizia originates from South Africa where the plant is pollinated by birds as they can easily land on the sturdy flowers. The plant is a member of the Strelitziaceae family which includes four species, of which Strelitzia reginae is the best known. The plant is named after the wife of the English King George III, Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who loved plants. The second name reginae means ‘of the Queen’. Strelitzia travelled from South Africa to Europe at the start of the 18th century.
There are various Strelitzia species that can all be identified by the upright stems with sturdy greyish leaves. The remarkable flowers are characteristic of this plant. The most common species is S. reginae with bracts from which bright orange and blue flowers emerge. A less well-known species is S. nicolai with much larger green leaves. This plant is trickier to bring into flower, and is therefore also used as a decorative foliage plant.
What to look for when buying Strelitzia
- The number of stems in the pot depends on the plant’s age. The most decorative plants with multiple flowers are 6-8 years old and have plenty of foliage.
- Check that the plant has enough fully developed flowers with colour or offers developed buds that can open under the right conditions. Plants supplied without flowers can sometimes take years to develop a bud.
- Strelitzia must be free of pests and diseases. The hard leaves and the plant’s structure lend themselves to pests such as aphids, scale insects and mealybugs. These are sometimes hard to get rid of. Red spider mite can develop if conditions are too dry, which causes a grey discolouration of the leaves.
As a tropical plant, Strelizia require a winter night temperature of about 10 – 12°C, but otherwise will grow well in a conservatory or in the home.
During the hot summer days make sure there is enough moisture in the air and ventilate the area where the plant is kept, or alternatively keep the plant outdoors.
Water more during the spring and summer months, without overly saturating the soil. By November the soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. A liquid feed should be given during the growing season ( Apr- Sept), you can find suitable liquid feeds in the house plant or garden care departments.
Text courtesy of The Plant Council Holland.
Images courtesy of The Joy of Plants.co.uk