White Bird of Paradise Care: How To Grow Strelitzia Nicolai [UPDATED]

When most of us hear of the “Bird of Paradise” we think of the commonly grown orange cut flower Strelitzia reginae not the White Bird of Paradise plant.

Strelitzia nicolai – Pronounced: streh-LIT-see-uh NICK-oh-lye

Although it is not as well known as the more popular orange bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae). It is commonly known as the “White Bird of Paradise tree”, has grown in popularity for indoor use over the last 30 years.

Its large banana plant like leaves grown from its clumping stalks are loved and used by many in various landscape designs, especially when a tropical landscape look is wanted.

white bird Disney World Beach Club - Oct 2016
White Bird of Paradise Plants – Strelitzia Nicolai at Disney World Beach Club – Oct 2016

The leaves are arranged in a fan-like position on the upper erect portion of the plant’s trunks.

Each evergreen leaf is sensitive to strong winds. For a tidy plant, most growers periodically remove ragged leaves.

White Bird Plant Goes Madison Avenue

The “White Bird” has been grown for many years but it took a little Madison Ave. to bring it to center stage.

In the late ’70s the magazine “Architectural Digest” did a photo shoot of an apartment living room… the famous clothing designer (Haltson I think) in New York.

They needed very tropical looking plants to frame the apartment, featuring Central Park as its backdrop.

What do you think they used?

white-bird-of-paradise-flowerorange-bird-of-paradise-flower

You guessed it! The “White Bird” they picked up at a nursery in Homestead, Florida.

The shoot was featured on the cover of the magazine and people have been asking for the “White Bird” ever since.

The “White Bird” is native to South Africa. It is used outdoors in both Florida and California as a landscape plant, where it can reach a height of 20′ feet tall.

When lit with landscape lighting some very interesting looks appear at night.

The flowers can reach a size of 10″-12″ inches, but plants need some maturity (few years old) before flowering. Do not expect flowers indoors.

Nicolai can handle a wide variety of soils and can grow in a variety of conditions. One condition it cannot take is the roots in extremely WET soil.

It is best to keep Giant White Bird Of Paradise on the dry side.

It also likes a “salt-free” diet, so make sure you use good water and stay away from the lots of plant food fertilizers.

 

The “White Bird” isn’t a small plant, but it is a very upright plant so it can fit into some tight spaces. Their large banana-shaped leaves add a rich tropical look to almost any interior and outside they create cool effects when lit.

Growers usually use multiple plants to get a fuller plant. Sizes normally found are 10″ pots 3′-4′ feet tall, and 14″ pots 5′-7′ feet in height.

Indoors, it is best to give Nicolai as much bright light as possible.

Most disease and pest problems occur when the plants are young and being grown in the nursery. But, always examine the plants and wipe the leaves clean.

white bird Strelitiza from nursery

White Bird Finds Place in Restaurants

The glossy leaves of White Bird of Paradise are sometimes used as plates to serve food in some seafood or native restaurants.

But because of these leaves, White Bird of Paradise has been loved by many as it provides a lush tropical effect on various landscapes, pool sides, patios, and even on containers.

White Giant Bird-of-Paradise Flowers

Giant Bird of Paradise plant flowers can be seen at the point where the leaf fan protrudes from the stem. These flowers are significantly large with a light blue tongue and sits in a purplish bract. Following these flowers are triangular seed capsules.

Most White Bird of Paradise tends to grow in clusters with multiple stems growing out of a single base. These stems make the White Bird of Paradise resemble the Palm tree except that it is thinner than most palms.

Under optimum conditions, Strelitzia nicolai is useful in creating a lush, tropical effect because of its eyecatching evergreen look.

White Bird of Paradise Plant Care and Vitals

  • Grows Outdoors in USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11
  • Uses: planted specimen in landscape, deck or patio planted in container or planter; also used indoors
  • Height: 20′ to 30′ feet tall
  • Spread: 6′ to 10′ feet wide
  • Growth Rate: moderate
  • Flower color: white/cream/gray
  • Flower characteristics: showy
  • Pruning: little required
  • Light requirements: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
  • Soils: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained soil
  • Drought tolerance: moderate
  • Salt tolerance: low
  • Roots: not aggressive
  • Pest resistance: resistant to most pests/diseases

Strelitzia Nicolai In The Landscape

The white bird or Paradise, with its large, upright, clumping stalks and banana-like leaves lend true tropical, exotic feel to any landscape.

Although the plants with their fan-like leaves resembling the travelers palm are usually smaller in the landscape, when mature the can reach heights of 20-30 feet. Over time the old leaves fall off exposing the trunk.

The white bird-of-paradise is an excellent plant for use in front entrances and creates quiet a “splash” when used as a “pool plant” in pool landscaping plans.

Plants do need some grooming and leaves need to be removed from time to time, as the large leaves can ragged from winds.

Give the plant plenty of room to grow, mature and develop. Once mature the unusual flowers of white accompanied with a dark blue tongue are welcome additions.

The Strelitzia flowering grows very well when planted in full sun in a well-drained soil that holds moisture. Protect the leaves from high winds as the leaves can become torn and ripped. Groom the plant by removing dead leaves.

Propagation from seed is slow but preferred. Propagation by division is possible but often the plant takes time to “look good”

Pests do not seem to bother Strelitzia Nicolai. Scale can sometimes become and issue. We use natural Neem Oil insecticide as our preferred spray for pest control. As for diseases, the White birds of paradise tree has no real problems.

Overall, planted in the ground or used in containers the giant bird of paradise palm is a wonderful landscape addition.

As mentioned above Strelitzia Nicolai may have become more popular since the 1980’s. However, it has been admired as a graceful beauty all the way back to the late 1800’s. In “The Garden” an illustrated weekly journal of horticulture had this to say about the “white bird” back on August 22,1874.

STRELITZIA NICOLAI

This plant is one of the most graceful members of the Musal alliance and deserves to become popular in our gardens and conservatories as a striking and elegant decorative foliage plant. It is sufficiently hardy to withstand our climate during the summer months, and grows even more freely than most of the Musas when planted in a richly manured soil and in warm sheltered positions.

In habit, the plant is more robust than any of its congeners, if we except S. augusta, which frequently attains a height of from 30 to 40 feet, treated as a warm conservatory plant. Both the last-named plants are chiefly remarkable for their fine foliage, but some of the smaller-
growing kinds, as S. ovate and the even more beautiful S. regina, are well-known flowering plants, generally grown in a warm conservatory or in a humid plant stove.

These species will, however, both grow and flower well in warm sheltered positions out-of-doors, and form striking objects massed along with Musas, Palms, and the larger Arads.

Our illustration gives an excellent idea of the noble port assumed by well-grown specimens of Strelitzia Nicolai, which, although common as a half-hardy foliage plant in many Continental gardens, is very rarely to be met with in this country.

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Strelitzia nicolai Regel & K. Koch illustration
Strelitzia nicolai Regel & K. Koch from – Houtte, L. van, Flore des serres et des jardin de l’Europe, vol. 13: t. 0 (1845)