Strelitzia Reginae


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 I love bird of paradise flowers. So when one day I noticed some seeds in the garden centre, I bought them. Then read how tricky the things are to get to grow. "Hard to germinate, easy to grow on". Hmm. Planted three seeds and gave the other half packet to Dad, who also loves the flowers. Most websites will tell you they take between 3 and 10 years to flower for the first time, so they are a patience plant! Hereīs my experience of mine, over some nine years now.


Strelitzia Links (including seeds)



Sown: May 17th 2001 and left in a conservatory. Humid, reasonably bright. Warm!



I checked a lot in the first month then totally forgot about the pot, which was by then at the back of some staging. I had a clear out of stuff in July and realised there was a quarter-inch thick shoot sticking out! That was quick for germination! Poked about and fished out the non-germinated seeds (one had rotted, the other was still solid) and then replanted the ok one. It subsequently germinated in August 2002 (!) and got given to Dad, who left it on a windowledge and it got forgotten. :-(






Come January 2002, mine was doing nicely: the tiny leaf at the bottom was the original shoot, and it grew another leaf every few weeks. But I began to see why it takes so long to flower!










I then kept it watered, fed it very occasionally and watched it grow leaf after leaf through 2002 and 2003. Dad finally got one to go, and put it in his greenhouse, but it doesnīt seem to be growing at the same rate as mine, perhaps because itīs cooler in winter. In January 2004 it occurred to me to take another photo (left). Much bigger now! Started to wonder if it was possible to get a flower earlier rather than later. However, the summer had its own surprises, and not terribly nice either.






I found out the hard way that Strelitzia suffer badly from Red Spider Mite. Grumble. I lost leaf after leaf to yellowing, crispy edges and the horrible little nasties. Tried organic methods, but they all failed. In desperation I sprayed it with a pesticide for vegetables (in the hope it was less bad for plants if it could be put on edibles) and that finally stopped the infestation, but by then it was looking very sad indeed. I watered it, fed it and put it at the back of the conservatory and left it to recuperate, wondering how much of a setback it had received.

Again forgetting about it was the key. On the day before my wedding in October 2004, I thought Iīd better clear up the conservatory in case it was needed for photos, and the Strelitzia surprised me again. There were two shoots sticking out of the crown, not one! So I gave my bridesmaids a heart attack as I bounced about grinning, thinking it had split.

It hadnīt. It was growing a leaf out of the centre, and the other was the long-awaited flower spike. What a wedding present!






Here I am in the first week of January 2005, and the spike is now a metre tall and starting to widen and turn orangey in colour. I think at some point in the next month it will start to bend into the beak, and then I look forward to it opening! Watch out for the pictures...










I have a hope that it may open by Christmas, but itīs more likely to be mid-January at the rate itīs growing. Either way, itīs less than 4 years, which is pretty good!



27th November, 2004







February 2nd 2005















February 23rd

And yet another set of petals! Now the crest is really looking spectacular. And I think thereīs a fourth set inside, too.






March 11th

The fourth set of petals has been up for a couple of days. The first set has gone over now, leaving the other three still bright. Itīs certainly put on a lovely display - I have no idea when it will flower again, but at least I have my photos!


February 12th

And hereīs the second lot of petals - and a second style/stigma too. I hand-pollinated the first one so Iīm hoping for seeds (though this may only work if pollinating another plant - but thereīs only one way to find out!).




















March 15th

Oh help thereīs a fifth set just peeking through the beak... itīs not over yet!



April 2nd

Except it was over - it was just the last petal. Still, the seed pod is now swelling rather nicely...



April 17th

Off we go again. Sowed two Strelitzia Reginae `Mandelaīs Goldī and two S. R. `Junceaī in pots in the heated propagator, after first scratching the capsule so water can penetrate easier.



May 15th
Peeked in pots, risking finger blight. One juncea seed seems to have vanished totally, one Mandelaīs gold has germinated! Repotted in its own pot. Other two seeds were looking ok and not soggy (I really want to know where the other juncea is - probably hiding in the compost).



July 2005
There is something odd happening in the pot. Not one but two slightly crinkly leaves grew very quickly out of the centre last month, and now Iīve yet another mangled pair coming, at rather odd angles too.  I have a suspicion that it means the plant really is trying to split this time...  The seed pod is still reddening, and so far hasnīt shown any inclination to split open. The Mandelaīs Gold seed put up a tiny leaf and then stopped. Just sits there, so Iīm hoping this means itīs getting a decent root system set up now itīs got means of photosynthesis. Things are rather better than last year as Iīve got predators keeping the red spider mites under control and so the leaves are all nice and green.






Strelitzia Reginae `Mandelaīs Goldī, sown April 17th 2005



The main plant mid-split, with seed pod near the roof!!

(The African violets, bougainvillea and Phalaenopsis orchid all rather like it in the conservatory, too.)






August 2005
Sadly the seedling shown above is no more - something had been eating away at the stem and it just came off. Probably sciarid larvae. Grr.

To compensate slightly, the splitting of the main plant continues, though the first leaves out are a bit crinkly! And the seed pod has ripened and split, giving me six incredibly shiny seeds with orange tufts :-)

Planted three immediately (and will cover with cling film to stop any sciarids getting in.) Three going to whoever yells first on Allotments 4 all or emails me using the addy on the front page of this site!










End August 2005
Peekaboo. New flower coming! Huzzah! This time I spotted it early on, and itīs on the other side of the plant to the last one, or rather on the other plant if this split ever sorts itself out.






December 5th 2005
Home after a weekend away and find Iīve got a bloom out already - so it will be at its best for Christmas. Wonderful! Almost unbelieveable that the last flower only died back in  March.














July  2006
The main plant is now growing three leaves a time, and large ones at that. I didnīt expect a three-way split, as the third heart started as just one leaf! The first attack of red spider mite in late May seems to have been beaten back (mostly due to the predators again, which I ordered as soon as I saw the mites) and the seed pods from the flower above are ripening rapidly. I expect theyīll crack in the next month. I managed to pollinate three of the blue flowers this time and each then grows a cylindrical pod within the `beakī.

Meanwhile, one of the last batch to be sown has germinated, and thereīs no sign this year of sciarid so Iīm hoping it establishes and doesnīt get nibbled off! (Would also be nice if the other three seeds grow, but 1/4 seems to be about the right odds for strelitzia!)

August 2006
The seedling mentioned above fried in the incredible heat of July, only to have a second one pop up a week or two later and start to fight the sciarid, which has also appeared. This one is being coddled and the temperatures watched very carefully! It is growing very quickly, and is already unfurling a leaf. Bit different to the Mandelaīs Gold last year; it must have stopped because of the sciarid grubs. Pah. Have discovered theyīre immune to both Provado and bifenthrin so have no idea how to kill the things now! Oh for the EU to reinstate malathion! That killed them... Iīm only non-organic where the ornamental tropicals are concerned, and even then, thereīs not much available now to kill stuff.
The better news is that Iīve got TWO flower spikes just appearing! So the split was successful. Happy.
The home-grown seeds ripened and were extracted, and though Iīm not convinced that theyīll grow, Iīm going to sow a potful to see.

September 2006
Should have looked closer. Thereīs a THIRD flower bud still within one of the leaf stems. Oh, my.























The two easy to spot spikes                    and a hidden one ( I hope).                The new one - shooting rapidly upwards









December 14th 2006
And the first spikeīs first flower is out. The three of them donīt look too far apart in timings, so I reckon thereīs likely to be a second by Christmas Day. Just in time for all the visitors! Of the small ones, Iīve got the first one with two leaves, the second oneīs just growing its second and the third oneīs struggling a bit as it got hit by the autumn aphid invasion. Should pick up though, especially when it gets to the second leaf. Luckily my notes at the top of this page do help - especially the part where I commented that they take forever to grow new leaves! Dropped the temperature in the conservatory by a couple of degrees so they last longer. Though with three spikes, with luck theyīll last a few months.







My original plant is now about 1.3m across and the same high. Good job Iīve plenty of room!





Flower spikes: the second oneīs bulging orange at the top so I donīt think it will be long before the petals pop out.






Kindergarten! The new ones, at least one of which was from collected seed as I only had a couple of bought ones left. Five years and counting...




Saturday December 23rd
Second spike out, second flower of first spike out. Turned the plant around so theyīre easier to see, and realised how big it now is. Two more views, with the big digicam. Clicking on the pics will give you a larger one. All three flower heads visible on the right one.










Sunday December 31st
And more pics, now that all three are now out and looking lovely. Iīm only pollinating two of the flowers, to see if it does actually make them last longer if they arenīt. And I can cross-pollinate the two, though given itīs genetically the same plant, that shouldnīt make any difference.













4th September 2007
What a summer my poor indoor plants have had. They were barricaded in the conservatory by all the contents of the shed, which had to be transferred after a tree destroyed the shed in January. I thought it would only be for a few weeks, not expecting that the replacement shed wouldnīt be complete until August. As a result, a lot of plants died through lack of water, both because they werenīt reachable (Iīd pushed overwintering pots under benches) and because I was too ill with hyperemesis to lift a watering can for some months.
Somehow the strelitzia survived, though it did lose about half a dozen outer leaves. The two larger babies also survived, and I think the smallest one only succumbed because it was also being badly attacked by aphids. When I could get to them again at the end of August, I started watering them with as much as theyīd take, trying to get the soil to absorb some moisture (it was bone dry). A lone leaf had started to grow on the main plant, which was encouraging.
Today I realised just how tough these things are. As if I didnīt know from 2004. Another shoot has appeared - and itīs pale green one not dark, which is characteristic of a bud. How on earth can it be flowering when itīs been watered perhaps three times since March, for goodnessī sake? Well, in its native South Africa, they are often growing in dry conditions for months until the rainy season. Something for which I am currently very grateful! I donīt think Iīll have it flowering by Christmas this year, but Iīll settle for anything I can get. Including survival. As it was, I lost the aspidistra, both the stephanotis, and the streptocarpus; the two phalaenopsis orchids really donīt look very well but are hanging on.

I shall look forward to it cheering me, in the dark months when I am struggling with the exhaustion that is inevitable with a new baby, and canīt do much else!






Whatīs left of the main plant - three very separate crowns of four leaves each. Babies are the little plants to either side.





And the surprise bud, despite everything.




11th September 2007
Oh brother. Second bud has appeared on the same crown as is growing a new leaf. Donīt believe it!





23rd January, 2008
We are almost at flowering point. Took a couple of shots just because thereīs a colour change along the top of the flower when itīs about to open; havenīt commented on this before.




24th January, 2008
And the petals start to appear... pics also of the young plants. Hopefully well on the way to getting flowers of their own in a couple or so years.



25th January, 2008
And weīre open.







































6th February 2008
This is why strelitzia are hard to kill once they get going. This is the main tap root, escaping the pot of the larger of the immature plants. These roots are huge and fleshy and must store a lot of water and energy. (I was going to use a pound coin for scale, then realised that not everyone reading this will have seen one - but I figure thereīs a fair chance everyone knows the size of an AA battery!) The smaller one also has an escaping root, but the drainage holes are smaller.
With the now-flowering plant, Iīve had to cut the old pots off several times in order to pot them on because of these roots, so donīt ever plant them in any expensive ceramic pots unless you particularly want to have to break them!
The second flower spike is now out, and the second flower is out on the first spike. That one, from soil level to top of the petals, is 124cm (4ī 1"). The plant is only in a 10" pot. Dilemma for this summer: do I repot it to a 12" pot or take a spade and split it into three separate plants which then wonīt flower for a couple of years? Probably the former, as I have the small plants for backup.







19th August 2008
Update time. Iīve got a bud coming for this winterīs flowering, but only one. All summer the main plantīs been struggling to keep its leaves going, and I suspect endemic red spider mite and a severe case of pot-bound roots are stopping it getting the food it needs even with regular feeding. Repot is imminent, probably into the green pot I had a blueberry in. The interesting thing thatīs happened is a very tiny shoot popping up in the leafier of the two seedlings - like a seed which has germinated at last, though Iīm sure there wasnīt one in there. I think... you can just see it on the photos. Is it a lost seed or is it a bizarre offshoot? Unless I tap it out and have a rummage, Iīll never know!



7th September 2008
Carried out my rummage threat, though only from the top of the pot. Astonishingly, it was a new germination, as I found the top of a seed almost immediately, so now Iīve got to somehow get it out of the pot, disentangled from the bigger plantīs roots and into its own!. Itīs been in there for, well, must be 15 months, and I didnīt realise it was in that particular pot! Meanwhile, Iīve got eight new seeds from the pod on this yearīs flower. Will do them, along with the Mandelaīs Golds, with the smoke treatment. Hopefully Iīll have loads of them soon! (Mind you, Iīve now got four normal ones, and at a metre tall/across each eventually, Iīll probably have to resort to having nothing else in the conservatory!)

Bit of a rhetorical aside: why do slugs like hiding under the strelitzia pots so much? Iīve got an infestation of striped slugs in the conservatory and Iīve no idea which plant theyīre breeding in, but I keep finding them at the rate of 1-2 a day, usually under the strelitzia babies... I am probably going to resort to slug pellets, as theyīre not outside where the dead slugs can enter the food chain.

And an update on the entry for September last year: the aspidistra did start growing again after I optimistically watered it for a few months, and has been living in the garden all summer. Even the phalaenopsis orchid which lost all its leaves has grown a couple of new ones, probably thanks to the photosynthesis of its roots. Plants are often tougher than people think.
















9th June 2009

Still havenīt sown any new seeds, probably because Iīm not sure where to put them - the conservatory at the moment is a dangerous place for pots, given a small boyīs liking for upturning them!

The existing strelitzia babies are tucked in places he canīt quite reach... yet. Not doing too badly. They are all growing new leaves at the moment, including the small one which I eventually did tug out of the roots of the bigger one. Both have survived the ordeal. The mother plant has pulled a fast one on me yet again. Firstly the flower spike never grew to flowering size and just withered. I can only assume this is because of shock after I repotted the whole plant after it had started to grow. It pretty much didnīt grow any more after the repot, so hereīs a warning to everyone - be very careful when you do your repotting! And it didnīt grow any new leaves for ages either, and when it finally did, it was a very distorted one. Basically two leaves stuck together back to back, with a stem which looked like two seamlessly fused stems too.

I watched this closely - to see what would happen when *that* leaf grew a new one. What would it look like? Well I now know - itīs grown two! One out of each side. This isnīt what happened last time the crown split, but could it be that happening again or...? As usual, watch this space (in a few months!)

Meanwhile, a few photos. Latest leaf out of the mother plant is enormous. Way taller than all the rest! But not out of the odd crown; thatīs the one on the left as you look at the photo.






mother plant, which has recovered well after losing so many leaves in 2007






bigger baby






Fused leaves - fasciated?













smaller baby




December 2009-January 2010

The odd leaf is indeed a precursor to another split, so I shall have four crowns soon on the main plant. Over winter the new leaves have grown incredibly slowly, probably not helped by the pot being so full of roots and compost that itīs hard to water. I am awaiting some hotter weather (ie >20oC outside) so I can take it out and dunk the whole pot into a tubtrug of water, and let the compost rehydrate for an hour or so. Not too long, though, as I donīt want the plant to drown!

I had only the one flower this season, but boy was it a long stem! Pictures are from December 18th 2009 (bud) and January 8th 2010 (flower open).














Meanwhile the babies are growing steadily; They are now in 8" pots and one of them is now home to a rooted African Violet leaf too, as I needed somewhere to stuff the snapped-off leaf and it just stayed there...



strelitzia180810 _1tn


strelitzia180810 _2tn


strelitzia180810 _3tn













18th August 2010
And yet another surprise. I climbed up on a chair yesterday to see how the seed pod was going on, realised it was cracking so cut off the flower spike. After some struggling I managed to get seventeen seeds out of two pods!  I think I shall be sowing seed this weekend... my small boy thought the orange-tufted seeds were fascinating. I decided to check all the plants over. Now the main plant is over a metre tall. It was sown in May 2001 and I first spotted a flower spike in 2004 when it was pushing a metre. So I was surprised by the larger baby, just 45cm tall, growing a bud! My reaction to spotting it was, "HOW?" but it was sown in 2006, and shown as the leftmost baby in this December 14th 2006 photo. (It was the second seedling - the first is the one at the front in the middle pic above and has nowhere near as many leaves). So itīs the right age, if not size. Perhaps itīs a dwarf seedling? I have no idea. Just a big grin right now. Itīs also the plant with the African Violet in the pot (which does very nicely as a watering indicator!) I suspect this too will flower sometime in the next 6 months.

Parent plant showing as yet no signs of any 2011 flowers. I shall have to feed it again. Itīs happily growing monster leaves so isnīt deprived of any nutrients, and I have been feeding it with tomato food! We shall see.






31st May 2013

A long gap here. After the last post, I gave the surprise flowering plant to my Dad, who managed to half kill it before the flower came out. I do *not* know how he does it; heīs a good gardener for outside stuff but I swear the inside of the house is inimicable to plantlife. Itīs invariably hot and dry (they have a dehumidifier and are elderly) and so once again I found myself trying to resuscitate a pretty dead thing. After two years I have almost given up. It grows two or so leaves and they curl and brown before even unfurling properly. Itīs down to two at the moment ( I did get it to six at one point) and both are browning. Itīs headed for the outside borders once we get past frost dates and then Iīll see if it make it to the autumn. I am trying to work out if it got some disease when he repotted it (hmmm) or whether he just broke the main root or something. Thankfully itīs not spread to any of mine, so am hoping that means it was possibly duff compost.

However. I got a lot of little ones from the last batch of seed, and gave a few away. They should be flowering in about 4 years time! My Mandelaīs gold is slowly but surely getting larger, and so is the one I sowed at the same time as the dying one. I have another two babies, one weeny and the other up to 5 leaves, all about 4" long at the moment. A long way to go!

The mother plant is just huge. Last time I checked it had six crowns, is now in an 18" pot and has a quite large money plant (Crassula Ovata) growing in one side. They do like companion plants! It also has two tiny cyclamen coum (seeded in from a shop-bought one) and for some reason, a French bean seedling. I can only assume a small boy planted that while I was doing the modules for the allotment! Last year it had four flower spikes. Didnīt bother pollinating them this time, I have enough of them for a while! Itīs currently growing new leaves after the incredibly cold spring, so am hoping that very soon the temperatures in the conservatory will finally climb into hot and humid, just like the strelitzias, violets, orchids and chillis like.















January 2011 - busting out of the pot!









November 2011 - an astonishing five buds this time, and still havenīt repotted it...








December 2012/January 2013: four this season. Plant now in larger pot (about as large as I can get - if it grows out of this one itīs for the chop (into smaller pieces).









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18th August 2013

Now is about the time that new flower spikes start to appear, and so I went to look. One new one so far on the main plant, and three suspiciously bulky stems which might indicate that there are more. But the surprise today was that the big baby strel has its first flower! About time too - this is the one which was a pictured seedling in August 2006. Baby no longer but it’s never had more than 5 leaves on at a time and has been very slow to grow. Sadly its sibling plant, the one I rescued from Dad last year after he’d tried to kill it with the central heating, gave up the ghost and met the compost bin. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. I’m not giving him this one! But it means that after flowering next season, I can carry out my long-standing thread to put a spade through the mother plant and finally split it up, as now I have two flowering plants. Can’t do it now or I’ll lose the 1-4 flowers it’s currently forming. There are six crowns now and one definitely is blind; the other five are possibles for flowers. I do hope I have five!


Thoughts on the dead one, given how hard these things are supposed to be to kill. I think it must have also had some kind of reaction to the potting compost, as well as the conditions it was kept in. That or some kind of virus. I am slightly suspicious of the latter even though none of my other plants has any problems, and it was parked right next to a seedling which is still going. Its symptoms were a failure to grow any leaf to full size without it going brown and distorted, and some abnormal leaf streaks. The later ones weren’t even getting out of the rolled-up phase before turning brown. I have no idea except perhaps root rot through overwatering (though again, I’d have thought that improbable here). Perhaps I should email the people in RSA who grow them commercially and ask if they know. Either way, I’m not using that pot for strelitzia again.



22nd August 2013

Two flowers through on mother plant, plus one bulge which is a bud going to appear any day now. Four all told. Maybe more that I’ve not yet spotted!



                youngster and bud                The main plant (45cm pot now)               One of the flowers                          The first peek of a bud

    (The very small one visible on

   the right is my Mandela’s Gold)



21st October 2013

Full house! Every single crown on the main plant has got a flower spike! Total number of spikes on plant: six (plus one on the young plant).

I am extremely pleased. I forgot to note that I repotted the main plant as soon as the weather outside improved enough to let me go out in just a t-shirt: I figure that it means the plant can cope too. It’s already trying to push itself up out of the pot!


Other tropical/houseplants (might as well give them a mention): the strelitzia companion plants have taken off: the crassula ovata, seen as a small plant in Dec 2009, is now massive. And I think the cyclamen will flower this Christmas. Meanwhile I’ve got one phalaenopsis orchid finally growing a new flower spike after slugs ate the last one, and another one just finishing flowering and growing more flower side shoots. No flowers this year on the bougainvillea: I think it too needs a repot/refresh of compost. It’s been there years and so I need to tip it out, remove old compost and get some more in. Without, of course, getting torn to shreds by the spikes. I also repotted my ficus benjamina earlier in the year, and that is loving the new compost so much it’s trying to grow out of the roof. I’m now cultivating cuttings as it will invariably get too big in the next couple of years and need to find another home.


I also have now got minuscule seeds on the venus fly trap I got earlier in the year. Anyone know how to germinate them?


The other challenge I have at this time of year is overwintering frost tender plants. I’ve got an unheated potting shedful of chillies, and rather a lot of non-hardy fuchsias and pelargoniums. The weather’s still warm-ish, but is definitely turning colder now. I want to keep at least some of them in the conservatory, but don’t want to import any more slugs, as this is how the resident population got in. I can’t isolate them or use pellets as the room is also our dining room, small person’s art room and also has contains fridges, freezers and the odd cat or two. And currently houses several hundred apples thanks to the monster crops this year. I’m sure I’ll work it out eventually. Or eat the apples.


10th December 2013

It seems appropriate to write an update at the same time that Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is taking place in Johannesburg. The babies in my conservatory had all been tipping sideways in their pots, a sure sign that the fleshy roots had escaped the pots and were pushing the plants over. So it was a repot at the weekend. One plant was severely rootbound, and I had to take my secateurs and cut the pot off. One reason I always recommend growing them in plastic pots! Getting the pot off is easy if you don’t mind losing the protruding roots, but I prefer to try and keep them so that the plant isn’t damaged more than I can help and so doesn’t suffer too much from repotting shock. A flowering strelitzia hates being repotted if it’s in the bud stage: you can expect the bud to shrivel a lot of the time.


The smallest strelitzia, the one from my own seed, is now up to about 4 still-tiny leaves and the root was pushing out. It’s now in a 4” pot. The next smallest (which I have a sneaking feeling is the same type as my late lamented dead one, ie semi-dwarf) has about 8 leaves but is still only about 6” tall. This was the very rootbound one. Now in a much larger pot! The third repot was my Mandela’s Gold. Now this one is very tall and has slim leaves, quite different to the other one. It was pushing itself up in the pot, and when I got it out showed lots of very twisted roots. Again now in a much larger pot. I have a feeling this one’s going to take many more years before it flowers.


Even the mature plant, which I thought was repotted for the last time, has again started pushing its rootball up and out. This makes it very difficult to water! I’ve not been giving it as much water as I perhaps could, they don’t much like standing in it, but need a fair bit to grow their flower spikes. As a result it’s growing the spikes quite slowly but steadily. I expect it will flower, spectacularly, about February. The only one that is behaving is the junior adult, as it was only repotted a year ago. Its first flower is now bending over, so I am hoping for a late December or early January flowering. Fingers crossed!


Meanwhile my main phalaenopsis orchid has started growing a third flower stem while the other two take a break from flowering to grow some more stems on the sides. My smallest one has got a 2” flower stem after having lost the last ones to slugs. I’m protecting it carefully! The other large one is also currently taking a flowering break. The African violets are looking scrappy: I think next spring I shall take leaf cuttings off all the main plants and start a new batch as some of them have been going over a decade.