Upon hearing the name Birds of Paradise the mind conjures up images of exotic, colorful tufted flowers that rise above silky green foliage. But did you know that there are many different types of Birds of Paradise flowers?
In fact there are two entirely different species bearing the same name.
These exotic looking plants are an attractive addition to the home or garden.
This guide to the different types of Birds of Paradise is designed to not only explain the difference between the two species but also highlight some of the most attractive cultivars currently available. Additionally, we will share growing and care tips, arming you with all the information that you need to grow these exotic, statement plants in your home or garden.
Different Types of Birds of Paradise
The name Birds of Paradise can refer to 2 different species of flowering plant which belong to entirely different plant families.
The first of the two types of Birds of Paradise belong to the Strelitzia genus. These are low growing plants that are related to the banana plant.
Indigenous to the warm, humid areas of South Africa, today the plants are considered tropical flowers. Strelitzia plants typically produce exotic, eye-catching tufted flowers. These sit above the evergreen, banana-leaf like leaves.
The Strelitzia plant’s ability to produce long lasting, exotic flowers has helped to make it a popular ornamental or statement plant.
So called because the flowers resemble a bird’s head, Strelitzia plants add exotic interest to the garden.
In USDA Zones 9 to 11 Strelitzia plants happily grow outside as outdoor perennials. In cooler climates they are best cultivated as exotic houseplants. Placing the plant pot on a JIBOLAT Plant Caddy with Wheels enables you to move the plant outside to enjoy the warm, summer sun before easily returning it to a more sheltered position once the cooler, fall temperatures arrive.
Drought tolerant, Strelitzia plants thrive in humid conditions with a temperatures range of 70 to 90 ℉. Best planted in well draining soil, Sterlitzia plants are also suitable for xeriscape gardens.
Just as visually interesting, the second type of Birds of Paradise is a member of the pea family. Part of the Caesalpinia genus, these are broad-leaved evergreen plants that typically grow as thorny shrubs or trees. Caesalpinia plants look strikingly different to those plants in the Strelitzia genus.
Different from the Strelitzia genus, Caesalpinia plants also produce distinctive flowers.
Thriving in desert conditions as well as heat, Caesalpinia plants are far more heat tolerant than those in the Strelitzia genus.
Like Strelitzia varieties, Caesalpinia plants do well in light, well draining soil. Once established the plants are pleasingly drought tolerant.
Both types of Birds of Paradise are also suitable for growing in pots or planters.
The Differences Between Strelitzia and Caesalpinia Plants
While Strelitzia and Caesalpinia plants share some similarities there are also some key differences.
Caesalpinia plants, in particular the Mexican cultivar, tolerate hard pruning or cutting back well. The plants respond well to, and quickly grow back after even the most severe pruning. Caesalpinia cultivars usually require at least one hard pruning a year. This is best done in the spring, as soon as the last frost date has passed.
Strelitzia or tropical types of Birds of Paradise are more sensitive. When pruning this variety, remove just the spent parts of the flower. These can be taken from the plant by hand. Any dying parts should be removed as and when you notice them. Never hard prune a Sterlitzia plant.
Strelitzia plants do not tolerate hard pruning.
Strelitzia plants thrive in humid conditions, particularly in combination with heat. In contrast, Caesalpinia plants prefer dry air. While Caesalpinia types of Birds of Paradise can tolerate some humidity, they won’t be at their vibrant best.
The size of the plants also differs. Caesalpinia types of Birds of Paradise are typically taller than the Strelitzia variety.
If you want to learn more about the difference between the two types of Birds of Paradise, including how to plant and care for them, our How to Grow and Care for Birds of Paradise guide is full of useful information.
The following are some of the most eye-catching types of Birds of Paradise. All the plants listed below are suitable for cultivation in the garden. Some types can also be cultivated as tropical houseplants.
1. Strelitzia Reginae
One of the most commonly grown types of Birds of Paradise, Strelitzia Reginae is identified by its long, leathery leaves. These are similar in appearance to its close relative the banana plant.
These leaves of Strelitzia Reginae emerge from the base of the plant, forming around a central, rigid stalk. On top of this sits an eye-catching flower.
The eye-catching Strelitzia Reginae.
The flower of Strelitzia Reginae is made up of eye-catching orange sepals and contrasting blue petals. Similar in appearance to the head of an exotic bird, hence the common name, with the right care these plants can repeat flower throughout the growing season.
Like other plants in the Strelitzia genus, Strelitzia Reginae is native to South Africa. Hardy in USDA Zones 10 to 12, in cooler climates you can also grow the plants as a tropical houseplant. Wherever you choose to place the plants, make sure that they get lots of light.
In warmer climates plant in an open, full sun position. Whilst the plants also flower in partial shade, flowering may not be as constant or prolific.
Strelitzia Reginae typically reaches 4 to 5 ft in height. If planted in a pot, the plant may be slightly smaller.
2 Giant White Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia Nicolai)
Strelitzia Nicolai is, along with Strelitzia Alba and Strelitzia Caudata, one of the 3 tree-like Strelitzia types of Birds of Paradise. Similar in appearance to Strelitzia Regina, Giant White plants are typically larger than other varieties.
Strelitzia Nicolai, also known as the Wild Banana plant, is an eye-catching specimen that is capable of reaching a height of 20 ft in the wild. More contained when cultivated in the garden, the plants can, with a little care, develop into shrub-like floral specimens.
If grown as a houseplant or in a container the maximum height the plants achieve is around 7 ft.
Strelitzia Nicolai flowers look similar to those of Strelitzia Reginae but with white, not orange sepals. These form the crown of the flower and contrast nicely with the blooms blue-purple tongue.
Like other Strelitzia types of Birds of Paradise, the foliage of Strelitzia Nicolia is similar in shape to the eaves of the banana tree. Strelitzia Nicolai leaves are gray-green in color.
Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11, this is another South African native that thrives in full or partial sun. The size of the Giant White variety makes it a great choice for edging an area or as a border plant. They can also be used to introduce privacy or to soften a fence in the garden or as a tropical statement plant.
In the wild Strelitzia Nicolai is a large tree that dominates the landscape.
3 Strelitzia Juncea
Strelitzia Juncea, also known as the Narrow Leaf or Rush-Leaved Strelitzia, is similar in appearance to the Strelitzia Reginae cultivar. The key difference between the two is that Strelitzia Juncea has more reed-like foliage. This is in contrast to Strelitzia Reginae’s banana-leaf shaped leaves.
Originally Strelitzia Juncea was considered to be a variety of Strelitzia Reginae. The plant was reclassified as a separate variety in 1974 after genetic research conducted by Dr Hendrik Albertus van der Venter at the University of Pretoria.
The flowers of Strelitzia Juncea closely resemble those of Strelitzia Reginae.
When in flower, Strelitzia Juncea produces colorful orange and blue blooms. These are slightly smaller in size than those of Strelitzia Reginae.
An evergreen perennial in USDA Zones 10 to 12, Strelitzia Juncea achieves a mature height of 3 to 6 ft, depending on the growing conditions. More compact than the popular Strelitzia Reginae, these colorful plants are ideal for growing in containers in a greenhouse or as part of an exotic houseplant collection. They can also be used in a cut flower garden.
If you are growing in a container, use a plant caddy to move the plant outside to enjoy the warm summer months. Just remember to return to their more sheltered position before the winter frosts arrive.
4 Caesalpinia Pulcherrima
An attractive ornamental plant, during the growing season Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, or Red Birds of Paradise, repeat flowers, producing clusters of intense red-orange flowers. Similar to the azalea flower, these blooms are smaller than those produced by Strelitzia types of Birds of Paradise.
Part of the Caesalpinia genus, these types of Birds of Paradise are strikingly different to the Strelitzia plants listed above. Sometimes known as the Peacock flower or Pride of Barbados this is a quick growing broad-leaved evergreen shrub which thrives in arid conditions.
The azalea-like flowers and long leaves of the Peacock flower.
Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11, in zones 9 and cooler Caesalpinia Pulcherrima plants are deciduous. Best planted in full sun and arid conditions, in the wild mature plants can achieve a mature height of 10 to 20 ft. When planted in a garden these types of Birds of Paradise regularly exceed 6 to 10 ft.
Regular, annual pruning can keep the plants to a height of 5 ft. This not only encourages lots of flowering, keeping the plants compact also helps with general care and maintenance.
In addition to its attractive appearance and colorful flowers, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima plants tend to produce prickly stems. Planting a few specimens close together can create an attractive prickly barrier in your garden. This can be a useful and colorful way to mark a property line or introduce privacy to a space.
5 Caesalpinia Mexicana
A reliable, broad-leaved evergreen tree, Caesalpinia Mexicana, also known as the Mexican Birds of Paradise, can achieve a height of 8 to 15 ft depending on the growing conditions. In most gardens the plants rarely exceed 12 ft, while if planted in a large container growth is further curtailed.
Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11, Caesalpinia Mexicana plants are native to Northern Mexico. Best planted in full sun, the types of Birds of Paradise display some cold tolerance. With the right care they remain evergreen in temperatures as cold as 15 ℉.
Caesalpinia Mexicana produces distinctive, colorful flowers
As the flowers fade, pea-like seed pods emerge. Like other varieties of Caesalpinia plants, this attractive specimen is part of the pea family. The seed pods provide a visible reminder of the plant’s family. Additionally, the foliage of the Caesalpinia Mexicana can resemble pea leaves.
Like other Caesalpinia types of Birds of Paradise, Mexicana responds well to hard, even severe pruning. For maximum growth and eye-catching floral displays prune at least once a year.
6 Caesalpinia Gilliesii
The final plant on our list, Caesalpinia Gilliesii, also known as the Yellow Birds of Paradise, are shrub-like plants. Reaching a height of 6 to 8 ft and a spread of around 5 ft, these are compact floral specimens.
Native to various South American countries including Argentina and Uruguay, Caesalpinia Gilliesii plants are hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11. In the cooler parts of Zone 8 the plants may require a little help to survive the winter months.
REMIAWY Frost Protection Covers are easy to install. Their fitted zipper and drawstring enables you to secure the cover in place, fully protecting the plant.
Caesalpinia Gilliesii plants produce long lasting flowers.
In warmer areas Caesalpinia Gilliesii plants are evergreen and produce yellow or red azalea-like flowers from July until late in August. These sit above fern-like leaves. As the flowers fade seed pods form. If these aren’t removed the plant readily self seeds, spreading around the garden.
Best planted in full sun, Caesalpinia Gilliesii plants also tolerate some shade but flowering may not be as prolific.
Colorful and exotic, whichever of the many distinct types of Birds of Paradise you choose to cultivate, these fascinating plants are sure to provide lots of floral interest.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.