Bird of paradise

Bird of paradise

Bird-of-paradise or crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) is a native of South Africa and is closely related to the banana. The herbaceous plant derives its common names from the unique flower it bears, which resembles a brightly colored bird in flight. The leathery leaves are held upright on stiff leafstalks and are about 6 inches wide and 18 inches long. The plant forms a 3- to 5-foot-tall clump that can be used as a focal point in the landscape or in mass plantings. The evergreen leaves of bird-of-paradise do not drop from the plant, which makes it an excellent addition around pools or wherever shedding leaves are an aesthetic and/or maintenance problem.

Bird-of-paradise makes an attractive landscape plant throughout Florida, although it requires cold protection in the northern part of the state. The plant will tolerate temperatures as low as 24°F for a short time; however, freezing temperatures will damage developing flower buds and flowers. To ensure flower production in north Florida, grow bird-of-paradise in a container that can be moved indoors during freezes.

The showy bloom is actually a combination of blue petals and orange sepals that emerge from a beak-like bract (modified leaf). Blooms appear intermittently most of the year. Healthy, mature plants can produce as many as three dozen flower spikes a year, which will last up to two weeks when cut.

Planting and Care

    Bird-of-paradise grows in most soils, but does best in fertile, organic soils with good drainage. It is considered to be a slow growing plant. For good flower production, place plants in sunny or partially shaded locations. Plants grown in partial shade will be taller and have somewhat larger flowers. In full sun, plants are smaller and flowers are on shorter stems. The bird of paradise will tolerate light salt spray but should not be used in exposed locations near the ocean.

    Bird-of-paradise tends to produce more flowers along the outside of the plant. Thus, spacing the plants at least 6 feet apart will allow adequate space for flowering.

Planting Information

    The planting hole should be dug 2 to 3 times the diameter of the root ball. Make it as deep as the root ball is tall. Before planting, thoroughly water the plant and remove it from the container. Gently place the plant in the hole, making sure the top of the root ball is no deeper than the soil surface. Planting too deeply may cause a delay in flowering. Fill around the ball with soil and gently firm the soil. Water thoroughly while planting to remove air pockets. Construct a saucer-like basin around the plant from the extra backfill soil. This will hold water until it drains down to the plant's roots.

    Where the soil is hard, compacted or poorly drained, consider digging a planting hole half as deep. Mound the soil to cover the sides of the root ball. A plant installed in this manner might require more frequent irrigation during dry periods but is not likely to suffer from drainage problems.

Care after Planting

    The success or failure of a new planting often depends on whether the plant receives adequate moisture during the establishment period (i.e., the first six months). Dry or soggy conditions will cause leaves to yellow and eventually die. Once established, bird-of-paradise prefers frequent watering from rain or irrigation during the warm growing season. During the winter months, plants should be watered only when the soil is fairly dry.

    Mulch placed around the base of plants helps conserve moisture, stabilizes root temperature, and reduces weed infestations. Keep a 2- to 3-inch circular area around the stems of plants free of mulch. Mulches against the stems of plants may increase the chance of stem rot.

    Common organic mulch materials include leaves, pine needles, bark, and wood chips. Inorganic materials like gravel and crushed stone are also suitable.

Fertilization and Pruning

For best growth and flowering, bird-of-paradise requires fertilization. Organic fertilizers (such as sewage sludge, manure, or blood meal), granular landscape fertilizers, or controlled-release materials such as Osmocote® or Nutricote® can be used. Spread fertilizer around plants every three months during the growing season according to the label directions. Dead leaves and old flower stalks should be removed to increase the aesthetic quality of the plant and to reduce the chance of fungal organisms building up on the dead tissue.

Propagation
Seeds

    A bird-of-paradise grown from seed will take three to five years to bloom. The black seeds have orange fuzz on one end and are the size of sweet pea seeds. The hard seeds must be scarified (nicked or scratched) before they will germinate. To scarify, soak the seeds in lukewarm water for several hours, and then nick them with a knife or small file. Scarified seeds will germinate in two to three months. Another way to decrease germination time is to put un-scarified seeds in a plastic bag and place them in a refrigerator at 40-45°F for two weeks. Then scarify them.

    Sow seeds in vermiculite, a one-to-one mixture of peat and perlite, or a ready-made mix, to a depth of one-half inch. The soil mix must be kept consistently damp until the seeds germinate. To ensure a moist, humid environment, cover the seed flat or container with a sheet of glass or clear plastic and place it in indirect light. Transplant seedlings individually into pots when they have two true leaves. Fertilization can begin at this stage.

Division

    The bird-of-paradise can also be propagated by division. This method will produce mature, flowering plants in one to two years. For best results, divide clumps during late spring or early summer. Dig up and separate old clumps, dividing those with four to five shoots into single-stem divisions.

    Plant divisions at the same soil depth at which they were previously grown. Keep the soil moist until roots are established (at least three months), then begin fertilizing.

Pest and Disease Problems

The bird-of-paradise is relatively pest free. Occasional insects include aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, scales and snails. A leaf borer will sometimes attack the flower bracts during August and September. Fungal leaf spot disease may also occur. None of these typically threaten the overall survival of the plant.


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