All You Need To Know About Strelitzia
The Strelitzia Family – The Bird of Paradise Plants – are architectural plants that provide both structure and form to tropical plant displays with beautiful leaves and striking flowers. Like many tropical plants, Strelitzia are native to South Africa – more precisely they are found naturally in the Southern and Eastern areas of the Cape Province and Northern Natal.
Most Strelitzia have firm green leaves (although there is a leafless variety available) and a striking flower that is a selection of colours depending on the variety you grow.
Strelitzia reginae is the Classic Bird of Paradise plant and has orange, yellow and red in the flower, very much resembling the bird after which it is named. There are several variations, including the celebratory gold Strelitzia ‘Mandella’ and the larger Strelitzia nicolai which is a fabulous plant with blue and white flowers.
Widely distributed around the world as a spectacular tropical plant, Strelitzia is one of the most recognisable tropical plants in greenhouses, conservatories and even gardens in all four corners of the globe. Their popularity is mainly due to their appearance but also to their tolerance to temperate conditions.
Strelitzia seeds are extremely hard, dark brown and roughly oval or round in shape. The seed develops within the flower and each seed has a bright orange tuft to one end.
Germinating Strelitzia Seeds
Strelitzia seeds are one of the more difficult tropical plant seeds to germinate. Many tropical plant growers will have their own methods, but the following works for me and I have germination rates of around 80%, which I am very pleased with.
Firstly, you must remove all of the orange tufts from your seeds. Pinch the tuft between your finger and thumb and tug it off, making sure you remove of much of it as possible. If you are doing this to a lot of seeds, you will notice your fingers changing colour, so it may be worth wearing gloves. You then scarify the seeds before soaking them for a few days in boiled, cooled water. Change the water daily to ensure it does not turn stagnant.
Scarifying Strelitzia Seeds
Once you have removed and discarded the orange tufts you then scarify the seeds. In nature, scarification can take many forms including a seed that has been chewed and has passed through the digestive system of a bird or mammal and the hard outer coating of the seed is broken down.
In the case of growing Strelitzia in the home, we can replicate the natural wear on the seed by nicking the surface of the seed. This ensures that there is a weak spot in the seed case that the embryo can develop through. It also makes sure that the seed contents receive plenty of water which allows the embryo to swell and grow.
Soaking Strelitzia Seeds
Once you have nicked your seed, soak it in water at around 20-25°C for 3 days, changing the water daily. Some tropical plant growers advocate using various chemicals to help stimulate germination. I have found my results to be adequate without chemical aids so I avoid using them.
Germination and Growing Strelitzia
As with most tropical plants, Strelitzia enjoy good quality, well-draining soil. I use a quality potting compost along with a good handful of perlite to break the soil up and create good aeration. Some tropical plant growers recommend using a fungicide, but I find this unnecessary.
Plant the soaked seeds in groups together in large pots leaving about an inch between them, or singly in smaller pots or trays. I plant the seeds about an inch down in the soil and have good results, so I recommend that you do the same. Keep your Strelitzia covered to retain humidity, and out of direct sunlight, at a temperature of at least 25°C.
Once planted, Strelitzia seeds can take up to 3 months to germinate. I find the ‘put them somewhere good and forget about them for a bit’ method to be perfect. My preferred location is on the bottom shelf of my greenhous, so they stay warm but are not baked in the sun. Once you see the shoots break the compost surface, position the plants in good but not direct light, repotting when the roots fill the pot, which will be sooner than you think!
Planting Strelitzia Out
Strelitizia will enjoy life in your garden suring the warmer motnhs. When the plants have 5 or 6 leaves, they will be big enough to harden off into the garden, once all signs of frost have passed. Keep your plants in pots so that you can move them quickly under cover in emergencies, should sharp frosts or bad weather threaten. I always bring my pots into an above zero greenhouse over winter to make sure they do not get too cold and wet. Whilst Strelitzias are tough plants they will not tolerate harsh wet winters, so please make sure you have somewhere protected to over-winter them.
Feed your Strelitzia plants with slow release fertiliser every month during the warmer growing season. Do not feed in the colder months. Water well with rainwater when the substrate begins to dry out. Water outdoor plants copiously in hot weather and reduce watering when it is cold.
Strelitzia have very robust roots and will distort their pot when they are ready to be potted on. For this reason, I always use plastic pots, so I can be sure to know when to move my plants on to a bigger home. Use fresh high quality compost and select a pot that is about an inch or two bigger than the original pot, to ensure that the plant has enough room. Always water any tropical plant well after re-potting it to ensure its roots settle in nicely.
This is one of the magical aspects of growing Strelitzia. It can take up to 5 years to see your first flowers, but one thing is guaranteed – it will be worth the wait. The flowers vary between variety, but all are beautiful and create stunning tropical displays in the home and garden.