By H.I JEAN SHIELDS
Special to The Breeze
English plant explorers discovered this un-named beauty at the Cape of Good Hope in 1773. King George 111 sent them to explore and find unusual and beautiful plants to enlarge the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew.
It was very popular in those days for royalty to have big and beautiful botanical gardens, always in hopes of recreating the Garden of Eden.
George's wife was queen, Charlotte, the duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and a patron of botany, when the plant was taken back to Kew, Sir Joseph Banks, and the king's horticultural advisor, and a wise man, named it to honor Charlotte: Strelitzia, and reginae, meaning "Queen."
There are several other plant colors. The giant white bird of paradise was discovered during an expedition a couple years later and named it Strelitzia Nicolai, in honor or Czar Nicholas 1 of Russia.
These plants are related to gingers, bananas and heliconias.
Bird of paradise are comprised of a bract within which orange sepals and blue-fused petals arise. Inside the petals are the stigma and stamens. If that description does nothing for your imagination, think of how the bird of paradise has a slender and graceful pointed neck and beak, which is heron like.
I am assuming if you live around here, you have seen a blue heron bird wading in our shallow waters, searching for a meal. Can't miss that beak.
These flowering birds, when cut from their large green clump, will last for at least one week in a container without water. They are great for flower designers who need to have a flower that will last under hot lights and without water.
I have a very large 20-year-old bush and even though July and August are the most flowering months, I have blooms all year around. I especially like to use them in February and March when there are local floral design competitions. It is always more fun to use your own flowers and much cheaper.
When there is a bloom that is still tight and has not opened up its cocky orange and blue parts, you can just cut it from bush, allowing a little extra stem to make sure you will fit in the container you are using, and then carefully force open the top edge of the flower head. It is best to just use your thumbnail to do this, not a knife. It is very easy. You then reach into opening and gently pull out the colorful orange and blue.
Sometimes you just want a couple for the house but they have a patch of dry-looking hairs hanging down, however the colors are still good. You can gently pull with a little twist and those will come out to be thrown away.
When you put them in a container it is fun to have two facing each other, same height. Your imagination will allow you to see that the birds are talking to each other. There are many interesting ways to display them.
Remember, no water I do use sand or glass marbles to hold them in place if it is needed. No seed planting with the Birds. They have tuberous roots, large ones, and the plants should be planted rather shallow. They need full sun to bloom well.
They like water, however, no standing water at all. They are heavy feeders.
It took my nice big plants a year to really flower well. I had one or two and I knew that was not good. I feed it a couple times the first year. The second year I found out that they need regular feeding like every month or two.
This feeding makes a world of difference. I have been using slow release, whatever brand I have, and I do every other month unless I sometimes forget.
They are hardy. They do need some trimming as flowers die and look pretty brown and ugly, and the long slender leaves need to be trimmed off.
I do not seem to have a pest problem. It is mulched lightly.
You will need room for a mature plant. That little skinny plant you bring home in a 3-gallon pot will grow up to be 4 or 5 feet tall and as wide.
There are other colors so read and make sure you get the one you want. Also, the while bird will be about 30 feet tall if you let it keep growing. Their white flower is very big and is tough to get off of the mother stalk. We do use those in flower design also, but carefully. It is also not a bushy plant but rather tall and about 3 feet wide. Very stately in the right place
Keep dry and happy gardening until we meet again.
H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral