The bird of paradise is a cousin to the banana, traveler’s palm and heliconia, which are also tropical plants. It’s called Strelitzia reginae in the botanical world and is also sometimes called the crane flower. The references to birds come from the striking, exotic appearance of its orange and purple flowers, which resemble birds in flight. In spite of its tropical South African origin, it is frost hardy to 24 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although you can successfully grow the bird of paradise as far north as USDA climate zone 9, which includes Houston, Las Vegas and parts of Portland, Oregon, when the mercury dips below 24 degrees Fahrenheit frost damage can occur. This damage affects the flower buds and open flowers more than it does the plant’s thick, rubbery leaves.
The bird of paradise plant can tolerate a bit of light salt spray from the ocean, but when you grow it too close to the coast, the leaves develop burned, blackened edges and the entire plant can suffer. The related traveler’s palm can withstand more salt in the air than the bird of paradise. If you plant your bird of paradise close to the ocean, its growth might be stunted, leaves can turn blue, white or an unusual green color, and dehydration causing wilting can occur. Too much salt in the air can result in plant death, according to the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service.
After you plant a bird of paradise, it is important to keep the plant well watered for the first six months it is in the ground. After that, it does not tolerate excessively soggy soil — it will develop yellowed leaves and later die. Well-drained soil is also important in preventing wet conditions that can kill the plant. During the summer months, it prefers regular water, which can come from either rainfall or irrigation. During winter, water your plant only when the soil is dry.
Insects and Diseases
The bird of paradise is generally carefree, and is not prone to insect attack or many types of plant diseases. However, a leaf borer insect can attack the flower bracts in late summer and fungal leaf spot diseases sometimes occur, but neither of these cause major problems. If you get in the habit of snipping off dead or yellow leaves and spent flower stalks, the chance of your plant developing a fungal disease will decrease.