The bird of paradise is a flowering shrub indigenous to South Africa. It derives its name from the shape of the open orange and blue bud that resembles the head and beak of a beautiful tropical bird. Several plants resemble this shrub or its cousin, the giant bird of paradise.
There are five varieties of the bird of paradise plant, all gloriously beautiful, and when not in bloom, their evergreen leaves are still attractive. All varieties sport bird-like flowers though they may be different colors. These plants all belong to the family of Strelitziceae.
The 5 Strelitzia species are:
- Strelitzia alba
- Strelitzia caudata
- Strelitzia juncea
- Strelitzia nicolai
- Strelitzia reginae
S. juncea and S. reginae work well as potted plants and garden shrubs. The other three variations are tree-like and can reach 20-30 feet.
S. alba is one of the huge tree-like species with a white flower and foliage similar to banana leaves. Strelitzia caudata is nick-named the mountain wild banana because it has banana-style leaves, white flowers, and a black “beak .”S. nicolai is the giant white bird of paradise.
Plants that look like Bird Of Paradise
Strelitzia reginae, the typical bird of paradise and its close relative, the giant or white bird of paradise, have several plants that look similar to these plants. S. reginae grows to approximately 5 feet and bears orange flowers, while the giant 30-foot variety has a white flower.
1. The False Bird Of Paradise
Heliconia rostrata is strikingly similar to the bird of paradise plant, hence its name. It is an evergreen perennial that is between 2 and 15 feet tall. It creates clumps of foliage between 3 and 6 feet wide, similar to the Strelitzia.
The leaves of the Heliconia are large and leathery, reaching up to 4 feet long. They look similar to the leaves of the Strelitzia and banana trees. Clusters of brightly colored flowers hang from the stems. In contrast to the Strelitzia, Heliconia is indigenous to Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia.
The flowers are filled with nectar which draws the hummingbirds. The flowers last for weeks and are stunning in floral arrangements. Heliconia is an excellent choice for a tropical garden.
2. The Traveler’s Palm
Ravenala Madagascariensis, the traveler’s palm, is very similar to the white bird of paradise. It is indigenous to Madagascar and is closely related to the banana plant and the Strelitziaceae family.
Although they are commonly known as the traveler’s palm, they are not palm trees. The trunks resemble those of palm trees. They derive their name from the tree’s ability to catch water at the base of the leaves, giving relief to thirsty travelers.
The young plants look very similar to the Strelitzia, but they produce huge leaves shaped like fans or a peacock’s tail as they grow. The traveler’s palm can grow to 50 feet tall. The females can grow second or third fan-shaped leaves as they tower above the garden.
The traveler’s palm has a flower identical in shape to the giant bird of paradise’s white one, but it is green.
3. The Banana Plant
The banana plant and the giant bird of paradise have certain similarities because they come from the same order, namely Zingiberales.
Bananas reach 10-30 feet tall. The bird of paradise is usually around 30 feet tall. The banana plant grows clumps 10-15 feet wide, and the bird of paradise spreads to about 10 feet.
Although similar at first glance, the banana tree leaves are oblong-shaped, compared to the giant bird of paradise whose leaves are paddle-shaped. Both grow to about 3 feet in length.
The bird of paradise sprout the white flowers and purple tongue. The fruits that follow the dead flower are small hard brown seeds. The banana grows purple husks at the end of the long bloom stalks that fall off to expose the creamy blossoms that eventually become edible bananas.
4. The Canna Lily
The Canna lily has similar foliage to the smaller bird of paradise plant. The flowers are different, but it has a tropical appearance, and it reaches heights between 1 ½ – 8 feet tall. It grows in clumps similar to the bird of paradise plant.
5. Caesalpinia Bird Of Paradise
There is a different type of plant, also known as the bird of paradise, but it is from a completely different family known as the Caesalpinia bird of paradise. Its appearance is also completely different from the Strelitzia type, and it belongs to the pea family.
Caesalpinia has three well-known bird of paradise varieties: Caesalpinia pulcherrima is the red bird of paradise, the peacock flower, and the pride of Barbados. It has a red-orange color, and the flowers are smaller than those of the Strelitzia type bird of paradise.
Caesalpinia Mexicana is the Mexican bird of paradise with its bright yellow azalea-type flowers and leaves that look like the legume family it belongs to.
The yellow bird of paradise, or Caesalpinia gilliesii, is more like a shrub than a tree. The flower is red or yellow, and the foliage resembles fern leaves.
These birds of paradise prefer a tropical climate and usually grow into an upright shrub or a small tree. Their average heights are between 9-18 feet tall, and their width ranges between 6 and 12 feet.
Interesting Facts About Bird Of Paradise Flowers
Sir Joseph Banks gave the Strelitzia genus its name. Banks was the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in South Africa, where the plant grew since 1773. He named it after Queen Charlotte, the Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
The Strelitzia bird of paradise is symbolic of a ninth wedding anniversary. It represents thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and love, perfectly fitting a romantic floral arrangement. It grows wild in Hawaii and represents magnificence in that country. It can also represent freedom and joy.
The bird of paradise gained significance through some forms of art too. Georgia O’ Keefe, a famous floral artist, painted one of her most well-known pictures of the white bird of paradise in Hawaii in the 1940s.
In 1912 a play called The Bird of Paradise, written by Richard Walton Tully was performed in Hawaii, depicting the story of an interracial romance between an American sailor and a lovely Polynesian girl. It was made into a film 20 years later.