If any flower can turn the heads of gardeners and laypeople alike, it’s that of the Bird of Paradise plant!
There are actually five distinct species in the so-called Bird of Paradise genus. But Strelitzia reginae (and, less commonly, S. juncea) is most often seen in ornamental landscapes and houseplant collections. If you’ve encountered one of the three larger Strelitzia species, then it’ll also come as no surprise that they’re closely related to the banana tree.
Cultivating these plants won’t result in any edible fruit. But it is a great way to bring unique color and texture to your home or garden.
Learning how to propagate Bird of Paradise is very easy. You can grow new plants via division or from seed. Before you run off and attempt anything on your own, however, let me tell you what makes Bird of Paradise division different than propagation via cuttings, as well as some of the interesting quirks that come along with starting these plants from seeds.
- Propagating By Division – A Complete Guide
- Growing From Seed – A Complete Guide
- Propagating Strelitzia by Division Or Seed – What Is Best?
- Growing Conditions & Care Tips After Propagating
- FAQ Bird Of Paradise Propagation
- Final Thoughts On Propagating Bird Of Paradise Plants
Propagating By Division – A Complete Guide
Unlike many popular houseplants, Bird of Paradise can’t be propagated by regular cuttings. In fact, the best and easiest way to propagate these plants is through rhizome division. So, when you unleash your plant from its pot, you’ll see something more than just roots and soil.
Rhizomes are special underground stems that produce roots and aboveground stems. The rhizomes of Strelitzia resemble ginger or turmeric. (Unsurprisingly, the edible parts of ginger and turmeric plants are rhizomes themselves.)
Since rhizomes grow under the soil, you’ll need to dig up your plant to divide it. At this point, you have a couple of options depending on the growth structure of your Bird of Paradise’s rhizomes and you’ll need to do a little ‘unearthing’ before division begins.
1) Removing The Plant From Its Pot
Carefully hold the base of the plant as near to the soil as possible. Then, firmly tap around the rim and lightly squeeze the outside edges of the pot to help loosen the soil. Once you feel a little resistance press lightly on the rim of the pot to ease the plant out.
For plants that are particularly root-bound, I recommend watering the soil lightly a couple of hours before attempting to remove it from the pot. This helps to moisten any roots that may be clinging to the outer edges of the pot and reduces the risk f root damage and breakages.
Carefully brush away as much soil as possible from the rhizome and root structure. This not only gets rid of any possibly depleted soil but also provides you with a good view.
2) Checking The Health Of The Roots
Now that you have full visibility of the rhizome structure and connected roots, it is a perfect opportunity to thoroughly check for any signs of root rot or fungal infections. You want to discover firm, white, or cream-colored roots rather than diseased roots that will be mushy to touch and brown or black in color.
Use a sharp, sterile pruning knife or scissors to snip away all traces of diseased roots making sure to re-sanitize after each cut. This will help to prevent any further spread of infection.
3) Deciding How Many Divisions To Make
The number of main stems you were able to see above soil level when your plant was in its pot will roughly correlate with how many rhizomes you’ll find below the surface.
In some cases, two stems can be connected to one rhizome and that’s perfectly fine. It just means that division will look fuller and have more foliage compared to a rhizome with just one stem attached. The trick is to separate each rhizome but keep each one intact.
4) Separating The Rhizomes
It is usually easy to divide a smaller Strelitzia by hand but larger plants tend to have tightly clumped rhizomes. In which case you’ll need to use a clean, sharp knife to cut through the attached root structure.
Once separated you may wish to cover the open cut with rooting hormone. But in my opinion, this isn’t essential.
Whether splitting by hand or cutting, aim to divide the rhizomes so each has an even distribution of healthy roots and stem tissue growing from it.
5) Potting New Plants
Choose a pot that is 3 to 6 inches wider and deeper than the diameter of the combined rhizome and root structure. You may think that the pot looks too big but Bird of Paradise are relatively fast growers when provided with the right conditions and typically need re-potting every 1-2 years.
If the root structure is too big for the pot I recommend trimming them back by up to 20%. Make sure you spray alcohol rub on your cutting tools and remember to re-sanitize after each snip to minimize any potential infection.
Sprinkle a layer of grit in the base of the pot then place the division on top. Backfill with fresh potting soil from a mix that enables good drainage. Ideally, use the same type of soil that you used for the parent plant.
Water your new plant and place it in a bright spot but away from direct sunlight.
Expect that your new divisions will be a little shocked post-propagation. Drooping or yellowing of leaves is normal however, with the right care and attention, they will bounce back and begin to grow new leaves. Avoid fertilizing and over-watering as they stabilize.
When To Propagate by Division
The general rule of thumb for dividing Bird of Paradise is to split the plant in early spring before growth takes off in preparation for summer. This is just a rough guideline as several factors can affect when your Strelitzia starts to put on seasonal growth.
If you keep your Bird of Paradise indoors for all or part of the year, there’s a very good chance it will be a bit ahead of the “normal” schedule. Keep an eye on your plant and be prepared to divide the rhizomes as early as winter.
No matter when your Strelitzia needs to be divided, it’s a good idea to line this project up with any necessary repotting. Accessing the rhizomes is a lot easier if you’re already digging up the plant. Plus, completing both tasks at one time will minimize any stress.
Transplanting Bird Of Paradise Divisions
One of the best things about this whole process is that Strelitzia don’t need much special care after propagation.
You can immediately transplant the divided rhizome to an appropriately sized container filled with clean potting soil. Ideally, you want to use the same mix used for the original plant.
Place your new plant in bright but indirect light for the first 2 months.
Hold off on adding fertilizer or watering the new plant at this time. You can start a normal watering routine a few days after division. This delay theoretically helps the rhizome heal. Fertilizer generally isn’t required until the next growing season.
The division is stressful for Bird of Paradise plants even when done perfectly. Don’t be shocked if your newly propagated plants look lackluster for a couple of weeks while they recover. The original plant may also show signs of stress, especially if a large portion of the rhizome was taken.
Growing From Seed – A Complete Guide
Despite the prevailing preference for rhizomatic division, seeds are how most Birds of Paradise in the wild reproduce. Bird of Paradise produces viable seeds at a high rate and can even become weedy in amenable climates.
1. Obtaining Viable Bird Of Paradise Seeds
To propagate your own Strelitzia plants via seed, you can purchase seeds from a greenhouse supplier or harvest them directly from a flower.
It is important to note that the presence of a flower is not enough for Bird of Paradise to produce viable seeds. The flowers need to be fertilized (via pollination) first.
In the wild, birds are largely responsible for Bird of Paradise pollination. If your Strelitzia is planted in the landscape, you may be lucky enough for Mother Nature to take care of things.
Hand pollination is also an option. These plants do not readily self-pollinate — the “male” and “female” parts of each flower mature at different times — so you may need access to multiple plants. Alternatively, collected pollen can be stored in the refrigerator for a short time while you wait for another flower to bloom.
If left alone, Bird of Paradise seed pods will burst open at maturity. It’s best to cut off any flowers that look like good candidates when they start to die back. Dry out the flower for a week or so before removing the outer layers in search of seeds.
2. Preparing Seeds For Propagation
Before proceeding, let the viable seeds sit in a cool, dry location for 1 to 2 weeks until they are completely dried out.
Strelitzia seeds must be stratified before planting. This is the process of pre-treating the seeds to help them come out of dormancy and enable them to begin germinating. You’ll need to do this regardless of where you obtained the seeds.
Several different stratification methods are used to prepare Bird of Paradise seeds for germination:
- Refrigeration — Store seeds in an airtight container in the fridge (kept between 40 and 45°F) for approximately 14 days.
- Scratching — Use a clean knife, razor, or metal file to lightly scratch the hard seed coating.
- Soaking — Submerge seeds in a clean cup of room temperature water for 48 to 60 hours. The seeds will noticeably swell up.
Every gardener has their own approach to stratification using one of these techniques. Personally, I gravitate toward soaking the seeds prior to planting.
Using small pots or, preferably, a seed-starting tray, plant seeds 1-inch deep in well-draining soil.
Seeds should be kept somewhere humid and warm (75 to 85°F or higher) with indirect sunlight while they germinate. A portable or full-size greenhouse is ideal but I’ve propagated successfully using just a seed tray that I’ve placed in a sealed plastic bag. Be sure to open the plastic bag for an hour or so each day to allow air to circulate and any condensation to evaporate.
4. When To Re-Pot a New Cutting
Allow several months for the seedlings to grow after germination before transplanting. Plants that will be kept indoors can be moved to a larger container at this time. If you plan to move your seedlings outside, wait until the temperature is consistently above 65°F before transplanting.
According to The Royal Horticultural Society, it can take 2 months or longer for Bird of Paradise seeds to germinate. To streamline the propagation process, plant seeds in early fall so that they are ready for transplanting in spring.
Propagating Strelitzia by Division Or Seed – What Is Best?
The choice to propagate Bird of Paradise via division or seed ultimately comes down to personal preference. With that said, I think you’d have a very hard time finding many gardeners who prefer the latter!
Propagating by division produces incredibly fast results. Bird of Paradise seeds can take over 2 months to germinate, and then several years to turn into a fully grown plant. Plants grown from seed, on the other hand, can take up to 10 years to flower for the first time.
Perhaps the biggest reason to propagate vegetatively rather than by seed is genetics. Strelitzia created via division are exact clones of the parent plant. Seeds, however, are a gamble. If you want to recreate the specific traits of a particular plant, taking a division is definitely the way to go.
I’m definitely not against propagating Strelitzia from seed. Dividing your Bird of Paradise can be a hard pill to swallow if you’re happy with its current size and shape. It’s also important to note that not all plants are good candidates for this process. Your Bird of Paradise needs to be mature and healthy before dividing.
If you have the resources to devote to germination and seedling care (and the patience!), propagation from seed can be a fun and enriching experience. But I also believe it’s not for everyone.
Growing Conditions & Care Tips After Propagating
Divided Strelitzia can be maintained like any other mature plant almost immediately after transplanting. Bird of Paradise grown from seed can be transitioned to a regular care routine several months after germinating.
If you propagated from a plant you already know, you’ll be intimately familiar with the needs of this beauty. If not, here are the basic resources Strelitzia need to thrive:
Plant in well-draining soil supplemented with compost or another organic material. You want the soil to hold moisture without becoming a saturated mess.
Bird of Paradise root rot is common so when using organic matter always incorporate perlite or orchid bark. This will serve to both improve water retention but also enhance better aeration and drainage.
Like many tropical plants, Bird of Paradise enjoy moisture but as already highlighted, will quickly succumb to root rot and pest infestations if they sit in soggy soil.
Do not water too often. Allow the top couple of inches of soil to dry out between waterings.
Mature plants needs at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day. Place indoor plants near a West- or South-facing window (or North-facing, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere). You can always use a grow light if such a window isn’t available.
Bird of Paradise can survive in lower light. However, plants that receive too little light tend to grow slower and put out fewer flowers than their sun-soaked counterparts.
Temperature & Humidity
While seedlings needs high temperatures and humidity levels, mature plants adapt well to average household conditions. If your home is particularly dry, supplement the air around your Strelitzia with a humidifier.
Bird of Paradise will only survive outdoors in the equivalent of USDA zones 10 through 12. Plants grown in colder climates must be brought indoors during winter.
Feed mature specimens with a good quality Bird of Paradise fertilizer. Liquid, granular, and spike formulas are all acceptable. Look for an N-P-K ratio with an even distribution of nutrients such as 4-4-6, 20-20-20, or 10-10-8.
Only fertilize Strelitzia during active growth, which usually occurs during spring and summer. Bird of Paradise should be fed frequently throughout this period. Reference the instructions of your chosen fertilizer to determine how often to apply it.
FAQ Bird Of Paradise Propagation
Final Thoughts On Propagating Bird Of Paradise Plants
Propagating Bird of Paradise isn’t as straightforward as it can be for many other plant varieties. It does take a little bit more care and effort but the rewards can be well worth it nonetheless.
Personally, I’m a big fan of division rather than seed propagation for several reasons. For a start, propagating from seed takes time and patience especially if you want to harvest your own seeds. With propagating by division, I get to provide my parent plant with a little bit of attention by checking its roots and upgrading the soil and pot. It also means that I end up with more Strelitzia plants to care for – and all for free!
Bear in mind that new plants need time to adjust and will undoubtedly suffer from transplant shock for at least the first one to two months before acclimatizing to their new surroundings. Make sure you are following the care tips that I’ve outlined above in order to provide them with the best start possible. And before you know it, they will be thriving.