The story of Strelitzia
Strelitzia is an eye-catching character with tropical looks that lives up to its nickname of bird of paradise flower. 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. Even without flowers the plant is a magnificent houseplant thanks to the attractive long upward-pointing leaves.
In South Africa, from where Strelitzia originates, the plant is pollinated by birds because 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. Many Strelitzia flowers and plants are imported from regions around the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands.
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.
Care tips for customers
- Strelitzia is a real sun worshipper: full sun will encourage flowering.
- Strelitzia can take up to 3 to 5 years to flower, which is why you will often find a artificial flower in the pot for presentation purposes.
- If the plant develops brown leaf tips they can be trimmed off. Old withered leaves and flowers can be removed.
- Water Strelitzia generously, particularly in summer, and regularly spray the leaves in order to prevent red spider mite.
- Give plant food for flowering or orangery plants once a fortnight during the growing season.
- In the summer Strelitzia can be placed on the patio or balcony.
- A hibernation period during the winter is important to encourage Strelitzia to flower again. If the plant spends a number of months in drier and colder conditions, new buds will develop. The older the plant, the more flowers.