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What is a Red Bird of Paradise?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2018
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Red bird of paradise is a flowering plant found distributed across the American tropics. This ornamental plant shares its name with a bird; the organism under discussion is usually evident from the context. Nurseries and garden supply stores may carry red bird of paradise seedlings for people interested in cultivating the plant and it is also possible to order it through catalogs or to make exchanges with other gardeners who are successfully growing it.

Known by a number of common names including peacock flower and Pride of Barbados, red bird of paradise has lacy, fern-like foliage and bright red and orange flowers. The scientific name for this plant is Caesalpinia pulcherrima, and a close relative, Mexican bird of paradise, is also grown in many regions of the world. In good growing conditions, this shrub can get quite large.

Red bird of paradise prefers warm, dry conditions like those found in the desert. It grows in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 11, preferring full sun and soil of medium quality. While it can be grown in containers, there is a risk of waterlogging the roots, and it is advisable to water lightly and to make sure that the potting medium is very well drained. If the roots stay wet, the plant can develop mold and mildew.

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Pruning and pinching back will extend the blooming period of red bird of paradise, as well as keeping the shrub more compact. It can be grown as a specimen planting and also thrives in massed plantings used for color and background foliage. In massed plantings, it is important to space the plants well to facilitate the circulation of air and light around the stems and roots. This will prevent diseases and keep the plants healthy. If plants start to become too crowded, they can be pruned and pinched back.

This plant is very sensitive to frost. People growing it in cooler regions of its range should wrap their plants when frost warnings are issued and establish them in a sheltered area to limit the risk of frost damage. If a plant is damaged by frost, the injured sections can be pruned away. In a marginal climate, one option to consider is growing indoors in containers during the winter and moving the plants outdoors during the warm months, as long as there is a warm and dry area of the house with plenty of bright light available.

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