1. Family: Strelitziaceae Hutch.
    1. Genus: Strelitzia Banks
      1. Strelitzia reginae Banks

        Bird-of-paradise flower, or crane flower as it is sometimes known, was first introduced into Britain in 1773 by Sir Joseph Banks, then the unofficial director of the Royal Gardens at Kew (as they were known at that time). He named the exotic-looking plant Strelitzia in honour of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who lived at Kew for many years.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Bird-of-paradise flower, or crane flower as it is sometimes known, was first introduced into Britain in 1773 by Sir Joseph Banks, then the unofficial director of the Royal Gardens at Kew (as they were known at that time). He named the exotic-looking plant Strelitzia in honour of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who lived at Kew for many years.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Strelitzia reginae is native to the southern and eastern parts of the Cape Province and northern Natal in South Africa. It has been introduced into parts of central and tropical South America and is widely cultivated as an ornamental.

    Description

    Overview: Reaching a height of 1.2 m,  Strelitzia reginae  plants consist of clumps of greyish-green leaves, with long stalks and broad oval blades, arising from an underground stem (rhizome).

    Flowers: The plant gets its common name from the exotic appearance of the inflorescence (flowering head). Emerging from a horizontal green and pink boat-shaped bract (a leaf-like structure) in slow succession, the flowers look like the crest on a bird's head.

    Each flower comprises three, upright, orange outer tepals and three, highly modified, vivid blue inner tepals. Two of the inner tepals are joined together in a structure resembling an arrowhead with the third tepal forming a nectary at the base of the flower. The stamens have long thin filaments surrounded by the arrowhead structure with whitish anthers that emerge from the top of the arrowhead. When a pollinator, usually a bird, lands on the arrowhead in search of the copious nectar, the anthers are levered clear of the flower and pollen is deposited on the feet or breast of the pollinator, which then carries the pollen to another flower.

    Fruits: The fruit is a leathery capsule containing numerous small seeds, each with an orange aril (an outgrowth from the seed similar to the red sheath (mace) around fresh nutmeg seeds) and an oil body, possibly attractive to birds which may help to distribute the seeds.

    Uses

    Bird-of-paradise flower is highly-prized and widely cultivated as an ornamental. The flowers are good for cutting and make an exotic addition to floral displays. Individual flowers last for about a week, but a single boat-shaped bract will produce several flowers in succession. When not in flower, the plant still has a striking appearance due to the large glaucous leaves which resemble those of banana plants.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    A collection of  Strelitzia reginae  seeds is held in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

    See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on Strelitzia reginae seeds

    Cultivation

    In Britain, bird-of-paradise flower cannot usually be grown outside as it requires a minimum temperature of 10°C. During the winter, the plants should be kept almost dry but in summer they need plenty of water. A suitable compost can be made from one part loam, one and a half parts coir, one part grit and one part bark. The plants require regular feeding. Flowering occurs in spring and early summer and can be encouraged by keeping the plants slightly pot-bound.

    Hand-pollination is necessary to produce seeds, but this seldom works. For germination and initial growth, the seeds need bottom-heat of at least 21°C. Some new stocks of seed-raised plants can reach flowering size in two to three years, but individual specimens may take up to ten years. Due to the difficulty of producing seeds, Strelitzia reginae is usually propagated by dividing the plants or using suckers produced at the base. Mature plants should not be re-potted too often, as the fleshy roots can easily be damaged by disturbance.

    Bird-of-paradise flower at Kew

    Strelitzia reginae is grown in the south block of the Temperate House (known as the Mexican House until 1977). *Please note Kew's Temperate House is currently closed for restoration - due to reopen in 2018* . It was the first plant to be replaced in the newly restored Temperate House in 1979. Grown here are typical S. reginae with small lanceolate leaf-blades (tapering at both ends); 'Kirstenbosch Gold', a superb yellow-flowered form, as well as S. juncea , an interesting species with reed-like leaves from a limited area on the eastern Cape coast.

    The 'Kirstenbosch Gold' plants were presented to Kew in 1991 by Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the leading botanic garden in South Africa, and flowered for the first time at Kew in 1992. Since 1880, similar forms have made brief appearances in cultivation and 'Citrina' flowered in the Mexican House in 1914.

    Other strelitzias in the same area of the Temperate House include the 10 m tall S. nicolai , named after the Russian emperor Nicholas I, with its striking blue and white flowers. A native of the coastal regions of Natal, eastern Cape Province, Mozambique and Botswana, this species was first planted in this block when it opened in 1899 and was replaced with a new specimen when the House was restored. Also on display is the very rare S. alba , from the south coast of Cape Province, with its showy white flowers.

    In 1909, S. x kewensis , a hybrid between S. reginae and S. alba , flowered at Kew for the first time, producing pale watery yellow flowers. Unfortunately it now seems to have disappeared from cultivation.

    Preserved specimens of S. reginae are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details, including images, of some pressed and dried specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    Distribution
    South Africa
    Ecology
    River banks and scrub clearings in coastal areas.
    Conservation
    Not yet assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.
    Hazards

    None known.

    [UPPd]
    Ornamentals
    It is widely used in landscaping as an architectural plant and focal point. Entire plant - PlantszAfrica database
    Tannins Dyestuffs
    Unspecified Products - Proanthoncyanidin polymers (flavonoids, antioxidants) have been extracted from the leaves Leaves - PlantszAfrica database

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Cape Provinces, KwaZulu-Natal

    Introduced Into:

    Bangladesh, Juan Fernández Is., Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest

    Common Names

    English
    Bird-of-paradise flower

    Strelitzia reginae Banks appears in other Kew resources:

    First published in Icon.: t. Strelitzia reginae (1788)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2008) Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh 12: 1-505. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
    • [2] Govaerts, R. (2004) World Checklist of Monocotyledons Database in ACCESS . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [3] Albano, P.-O. (2003) La Conaissance des Plantes Exotiques . Édisud, Aix-en-Provence

    Literature

    • [4] Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1992). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Vol. 4 (R to Z): 386-387. Macmillan Press, London.
    • [5] Beckett, K. A. (1987). The RHS Encyclopaedia of House Plants. Century Hutchinson.
    • [6] Perry, F. & Greenwood, L. (1987). Flowers of the World. Spring Books.
    • [7] Foster, R. (1983). The Gardener's Guide to Rare, Exotic and Difficult Plants. David and Charles.
    • [8] Heywood, V. H. (1978). Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • [9] Dyer, R. A. (1975). The status of Strelitzia juncea. Bothalia 11 (4): 519-520.
    • [10] Van de Venter, H. A., Small, J. G. C. & Roberts, P. J. (1975). Notes on the distribution and comparative leaf morphology of the acaulescent species of Strelitzia Ait.. Journal of South African Botany 41 (1): 1-16.
    • [11] Everard, B. & Morley, B. (1970). Wild Flowers of the World. Peerage Books.
    • [12] Moore, H. E. & Hyypio, P. A. (1970). Some comments on Strelitzia (Strelitziaceae). Baileya 17 (2): 64-74.
    • [13] PlantszAfrica database

    Sources

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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    Project MGU - Useful Plants Project (UPP) database
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