Strelitzia is both a genus of flowering perennial garden plants and a common name for the species Strelitzia reginae, also known as a bird of paradise flower. The genus is native to South Africa and includes the species S. alba, S. caudata, S. nicolai, the aforementioned S. reginae, and S. juncea. All of these species have large, waxy green leaves and brightly colored, spiky flowers that somewhat resemble the head of the birds of paradise, a family of birds known for their bright, showy plumage. Strelitzia are relatively easy to grow in an outdoor garden, as they adapt to a wide variety of soil conditions, but the plants prefer growing in warmer temperatures, as they can be damaged by cold and frost.
Plants of the genus Strelitzia usually grow to a height of about five to six-and-a-half feet (one-and-a-half to two meters). They have stiff, broad, waxy leaves that grow from the base of the plant. Flowers grow on long stalks and remain in bloom throughout much of the year, usually between the months of September and May. They emerge from a hard sheath called a spathe that grows at a 90 degree angle to the plant's stem, making the flowers jut outwards rather like a bird's head, hence the common name "bird of paradise." The flowers are usually brightly colored, with three sepals, which are modified leaves that protect the flowers when they are in bud form, and three petals.
Strelitzia may be grown from seed or by a propagation method known as division. Division involves separating branches from the parent plant and planting them so they may grow into new, individual plants. Propagating these plants from seed can cause the plants to develop slowly and unpredictably, producing their first flowers after three to five years of growth. Division is a slightly more reliable method of propagating the plants, with plants grown from divided branches producing flowers after about two years of growth.
When grown in an outdoor garden, Strelitzia plants tend to prefer conditions of full sun to partial shade. The younger plants need to be kept in shadier conditions, because direct sun can burn their developing leaves. Although the plants tend to prefer moist soil, they will tolerate being grown in many different soil conditions. Usually, Strelitzia should be grown in soil that is kept moist during the spring and summer months, and slightly dryer during the fall and winter. Additionally, the plants prefer to be watered with warm water.
While these plants are highly adaptable and relatively easy to grow, they do not tolerate cold well. The plants usually thrive in temperatures between 62 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Gardeners attempting to grow Strelitzia plants in a cooler climate where frost may occur at night should keep their plants in pots that can be moved inside when the temperatures begin to drop.