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Strelitzia reginae Banks ex Aiton 1789
pronounced: stre-LITZ-ee-uh ree-JY-nee
(Strelitziaceae — the bird-of-paradise family)
common names: Strelitzia, Crane Flower, Bird of Paradise
The genus Strelitzia was named by Sir Joseph Banks, when curator of Kew Gardens, in honour of Queen Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of George III of England; reginæ is Latin for ‘of the queen’.
This flower is a native of South Africa. There is quite a large planting in the garden on the Sooning Street side of the Blue on Blue Resort in Nelly Bay. Strelitzia are plentiful in Townsville, and will grow in most parts of Australia.
The plant grows to about 2 m tall, with large, strong leaves up to 70 cm long and 30 cm broad, though they are often smaller than that. They are arranged in two ranks, making a fan-shaped crown. The flowers stand above the foliage at the tips of long stalks. The flower emerges from a hard, beak-like sheath, the spathe. This is perpendicular to the stem, giving it the appearance of a bird’s head and beak, and making it into a durable perch for holding the sunbirds that pollinate the flowers. The flowers emerge one at a time from the spathe, and consist of three brilliant orange sepals and three purplish blue petals. Two of the blue petals are joined together to form an arrow-like nectary. When the sunbirds sit to drink the nectar, the petals open to cover their feet with pollen. The plants usually flower several times a year.
Strelitzia reginae like a sunny position, but will grow in most types of soil as long as it is well-drained. They are an easy plant to look after, and the flowers and leaves are long-lasting in flower-arrangements. Flowers can be picked as soon as the first signs of colour show on the bill of the bud. They will then progressively come out, and will last for up to a month if the water is changed regularly and they are kept in a well-lit situation. The leaves also last well.
The plants remove much nourishment from the soil. They do best in rich acid soil. In other soils, rotted manure or a time-release fertilizer should be added to the hole when planting. The plants should be fertilized monthly. They will produce the most flowers when planted in bright sun, but the best-looking foliage when planted in shade. In the latter case, there will be fewer flowers. The best way to propagate is by division of clumps, although they can also be grown from seeds.
Clumps of this plant provide bulk and mass, and can be used in the landscape like a small shrub. They serve well as an anchor plant in island beds when surrounded by lower-growing annuals or ground cover. They can also be potted as indoor plants, and they make a showy and non-messy plant beside swimming pools.
The Bird of Paradise flower is an ikon of the tropics, its image turning up on fabrics, wallpaper, tourist tat, and on assorted art works from the sublime to the ridiculous – but, beautiful as some of these might be, they cannot compare with the real thing.
Larvae of the Perfect Tussock Moth Calliteara pura use this as a food plant.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2008, 2009
Page last updated 19th February 2017