STRELITZIAS

STRELITZIAS

STRELITZIAS are clump-forming plants with big, dark green leaves on long leafstalks in a fanlike arrange­ment, and strangely shaped, strikingly colorful flowers. Some species are treelike and have trunks up to 25 feet tall in the wild, but only one species is widely grown indoors: S. reginae (bird of paradise flower, crane flower, or crane lily). 5. reginae is a large plant in the wild, but its growth is consi­derably restricted in a pot or small tub, where it will grow no taller than 3-4 feet. This restriction encourages early flowering. The leathery leaves, which are oblong to spear-shaped, 12-15 inches long, and 3-6 inches wide, have sturdy, cylindrical leafstalks 12-30 inches  long.  The stalks rise  from sheaths in the base of the plant. These strelitzias flower when they are about six years old. Thereafter, they produce crested flower heads every year on 3- to 4-foot-long stalks that rise from the axils of the lower leaves in spring and early summer. The remarkable flower head consists of an 8-inch-long, boat-shaped bract held in a nearly horizontal position, from which a succession of three- petaled flowers emerge during the course of several weeks. These erect blooms, each up to 6 inches long, give the flower head its crested appearance. Jutting out from the center of each flower is a tonguelike projection 6-8 inches long and 1 inch wide. The boatlike bract is green, sometimes flushed with purple or red; the flowers are bright orange; the tonguelikc pro­jections are dark blue or purple. Apart from its need for sunlight along with a cool winter rest period, this exotic plant is not particularly difficult for the amateur indoor gardener to grow.

PROPER CARE

Light  Give  these  strelitzias bright light, with at least three or four hours a day of direct sunlight. They will not flower if grown in inadequate light.

Temperature During the active growth period strelitzias will do well in normal room temperatures. They need a long, cool rest period during the fall and winter months, however, when the temperature should be kept at around 55°F.

Watering During the active growth period water moderately, giving enough at each watering to make the potting mixture moist throughout but allowing the top inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. During the rest period give just enough to prevent the mixture from drying out completely.

Feeding Apply standard liquid ferti­lizer every two weeks during the active growth period only.

Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. Move young plants into containers one or two sizes larger each spring until maximum convenient pot or tub size (probably 8-12 inches) has been reached. Thereafter, topdress with fresh mixture in the spring. Apart from the annual topdressing, do not disturb mature, flowering plants. They are likely to stop flowering for a year or two if subjected to any sort of displacement. 

Propagation Propagate strelitzias in spring by dividing old, overcrowded clumps or by gently separating a sec­tion with two or three leaves with some roots attached from any mature plant. Pot the small section in a 5- or 6-inch pot of soil-based mixture, and place it in a warm spot in bright filtered light (but no direct sunlight) for six weeks. During this period do not feed the small plant, and water it sparingly, allowing a full half of the mixture to dry out between water­ings. By the end of the sixth week the roots will have become active in the new pot, so treat the plant as a mature specimen. It will normally flower in two to three years. S. reginae can also be grown from seed. This is an extremely slow pro­cess, though. It involves a wait of possibly as long as 10 years before flowers are produced.

Special points Scale insects some­times attack strelitzias. Look for them from time to time near the midrib on the undersides of leaves, which is where they are usually found.

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