Meet my new bird of paradise plant. It has no name. Just a baby, the plant is about one foot tall. I bought it through Amazon and it arrived well packed and very healthy. This is the second bird of paradise I’ve had. The first also came to my doorstep as a baby. It grew to a full sized plant, over six feet tall. After twelve to fifteen years of living with this gigantic house plant, I decided it was time for it to go to a more suitable environment. I sold it to a man with a large atrium where it would have room to stretch out. My new baby is a dwarf plant and won’t grow taller than two to three feet. Phew!
Bird of paradise plants grow slowly, especially in the contained surroundings of the house. Just sprouting a seed can take years. Once the seed starts, a rhizome grows and leaves develop. These plants are related to the banana and the leaves have a similar look. When leaves begin to grow, each successive one is a bit taller and broader than the last. When the plant gets to be four to six years old, it may bloom. My baby is the common orange or red variety. The flowers will look like this, an example growing outside in Spain.
Bird of paradise bloom in the late summer if there is enough light, food, water and humidity. I found the plant to be fairly easy to grow and my large one bloomed every year with multiple flower stalks. You can tell the flowers as they emerge from the base of the plant. The newly growing leaves look like rolled scrolls and flowers have a snake-head appearance. The stalk grows to the same height as the leaves, forms the bird-head then pops up one flower after another until the flower head is fully open. The flower will sometimes drip a small amount of sticky, clear sap as a new set of petals emerges.
Bird of paradise plants require big containers. They have huge root systems like tangled snakes, some close to an inch in diameter. The roots coil around the pot and push, expanding until the pot breaks. Root pruning is necessary and occasional dividing of the plant to keep it within houseplant bounds. Outdoors, bird of paradise will colonize a large area over time, just like irises.
I fed my old plant with regular houseplant fertilizer, watered every week, used a mulch of a carpet-forming plant around the base and misted the leaves with water to keep them dusted. The plant did well in an east window where there was plenty of light. Our house can get chilly at night in winter, down into the fifties, but the plant never minded. When the flowers are done, or the leaves turn yellow, cut back to the base just above the wide area where the stalk emerges to remove the old growth.
I look forward to seeing my new baby bloom. The wait is worth it. Once the plant becomes established, it is like a member of the household, its big leaves and beautiful flowers demanding attention. Right now the tiny plant is adorable, like any other baby, because I know just how huge it will become one day.
The tropical feel of the plant helps to ward off cabin fever when the snow is deep outside and the wind keens around the house corners. I look at the plant and imagine a white sand beach, the hiss of surf and a gentle breeze from the south. Helps to forget winter for just a few moments.