With their tufted heads and uncanny beaks, all the different types of bird of paradise flowers (Strelitzia spp.) are showstoppers in their own right.
Even when they’re not flowering, the silky evergreen foliage is attractive and adds texture and interest year-round. Since these plants originated in South Africa, they thrive in warm, humid regions and are popular in tropical and subtropical locations around the globe.
All species thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12, and sometimes in parts of Zone 9 if you keep them warm in the winter months. You can grow them in colder zones as indoor plants, or as outdoor plants in the summer, and indoors in the winter.
But there are some meaningful differences between bird of paradise plants that you should be aware of before choosing one (or three) to plant indoors or out.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know so that you don’t accidentally plant a 30-foot plant inside your 1,500 square foot home.
Here’s what you’ll discover:
Bird of Paradise Types
The Five Strelitzia Species
This striking plant is part of the Strelitziaceae family and there are five main species in the Strelitzia genus. Some make perfect potted plants, like the relatively short S. juncea and S. reginae.
Others, like S. nicolai, are a massive, impactful piece of landscaping at well-known theme parks like Disneyland.
The five species are:
1. S. alba
S. alba is one of three tree-like Strelizia species, along with S. nicolai and S. caudata.
These evergreen, herbaceous flowering perennials can grow to shocking heights in optimal conditions. Think 30 feet or taller!
Often called the white-flowered banana plant thanks to its white flowers and banana-like leaves, S. alba blooms from July to December in the northern hemisphere.
These imposing plants are found growing wild in coastal areas of the western Cape region of South Africa and in Madagascar.
2. S. caudata
Also known as the “mountain wild banana,” S. caudata grows wild in the mountains of southern Africa, from South Africa to Swaziland and up through Zimbabwe.
It has the flair of the traveler’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis), a related species in the same family, and the foliage style of a banana plant.
S. caudata grows up to 20 feet tall and sports black-beaked, white-tufted flowers.
3. S. juncea
S. juncea, also known as narrow leaf bird of paradise, looks a lot like the most common species, S. reginae, but its leaves are reed-like instead of banana-shaped.
The orange and blue flowers are slightly smaller than those of S. reginae.
Reaching a mature height of three to six feet tall, this species makes a lovely cut flower or border in a tropical-style garden.
Originally thought to be a variety of S. reginae, it was reclassified as S. juncea in 1974 after genetic research conducted by Dr Hendrik Albertus van de Venter from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
This species is also ideal for indoor growing. If you set them outside during the summer and bring them in when temperatures drop, you’ll enjoy blooms during the warm season and pretty green foliage to keep you company while it’s cold outside.
4. S. nicolai
Like S. alba, S. nicolai resembles a banana plant and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Which is still huge, but smaller than S. alba.
Often called the giant white bird of paradise, S. nicolai plants sport white flowers with dark blue-gray “beaks.”
S. nicolai makes an excellent outdoor landscape piece for anyone who lives in Zones 10-12. Use it as a border to create a natural fence between you and the road or you and a neighbor!
5. S. reginae
Meet the most beautiful species of all, the orange-flowered S. reginae, which was a constant part of the landscape at the university I attended in southern California.
Since it grows to a much more manageable mature height of just five to six feet, it’s easier to spot the orange clusters of flowers on S. reginae than it is to see the blooms on taller plants in the genus.
This species blooms off and on all year long, but like its sister species, it can suffer if temperatures drop below freezing.
Prolific in warm, balmy Florida, it nevertheless requires cold protection in the northern part of the state.
The same is true for Strelitzias grown in cooler parts of California. This makes it an ideal houseplant during winter – or all year round if you live somewhere that’s colder than Zone 9.
Bring the Cheery Tropics Home
The most commonly grown bird of paradise species around the world, whether for outdoor landscaping or indoor cheer, are S. alba, S. juncea, S. nicolai, and S. reginae.
S. caudata mainly grows in the wild, so if you ever visit the stunning mountains of southern Africa, keep your eye out for this one!
Now that you can tell the five types apart, you can choose the best varieties to plant at home, and don’t forget to consult our guide to growing bird of paradise to learn more.
What type of bird of paradise are you growing? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share a picture!
And for more information about unique flowers to grow in your garden, check out these guides next:
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About Laura Melchor
Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.