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A blue and white bird of paradise

giant bird of paradise
Longtime SoCal gardeners who have seen it all, indulge me: I freaked out when I saw this enormous blue and white bird of paradise while walking in my neighborhood. I had no idea these iconic tropical plants came in anything but the bright orange tipped with hot pink and blue model. And why was it so big? I needed to know more.

Online research revealed that this plant, about 8 feet high in the photo above, is casually known as giant bird of paradise (officially called Strelitzia nicolai). Unfortunately, according to Dale Uchida, co-owner of Bellefontaine Nursery in Pasadena, it is not a low-water choice. He said it is possible that this plant, once established, could go as long as seven to 10 days without water, depending on how much sun it gets, but chances are the more water it gets the happier it will look.

I embrace water conservation in the garden, so I guess I won't be planting a giant bird of paradise in my own yard, but I'll continue to admire it at my neighbor's house. I love variations on a theme.

-- Deborah Netburn

Addendum: After this post went up Dry Garden columnist Emily Green wrote in to say that in fact birds of paradise can be low water."While not Mediterranean climate plants, they aren't tropical and are actually quite drought tolerant," she said. For all you ever wanted to know about the bird of paradise, check out her full story--really a profile--here.

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Photo: Giant bird of paradise, aka Strelitzia nicolai. Credit: Deborah Netburn

Comments () | Archives (10)

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I recall the days when the LAT had a real garden writer. Now we get cell phone camera photos and blog posts.

I concur with Kate, these "articles" are getting pretty lame. If you would like me, or any of my horticultural friends to send in resumes, let me know. Giant Bird of Paradise? Sheesh.

Dear Deborah,

If I have a mature bird of paradise in my yard, how do I prune the browned and dead flowers? I cut some down to about 6" from the ground, but think that was a BIG MISTAKE. Should I put the dead segments off the "flower" and just leave it alone?

Patsy in Murrieta

You've got to be kidding me. A giant bird of paradise is a new find to a garden writer!!!! Geez, they are everywhere, including by the dozen at Home Depot. Seriously, this is just depressing that journalism has sunk this low.

Ms. Netburn--I don't read cranky emails--just send them to SPAM. Want to disagree with me? Post it here.

I think most people with open eyes have noticed that these plants have flowers of different colors. Not news.

Ms. Netburn sent me a private email, which my Spam filter grabbed. If she had anything of substance to say, she could have posted it here.

Hi everyone. This is clearly a problem of classification. Los Angeles gardens are full of everyday wonders. Golly gee moments are fair. Lots of people are unaware of the blue and white S. Nicolai flowers because the plants often are so towering, the flowers are 30 feet aloft. Many casual observers, I suspect, take the plants for banana trees. Deborah's added the link to a profile of the Strelitzia clan. I hope it helps those yearning to know more about these plants. (It's at http://articles.latimes.com/2005/mar/24/home/hm-paradise24/4 ).

Patsy, pruning about six inches from the ground is often as close as you can get. Those who get farther down are more coordinated and dedicated to a "clean" look than I am. The rest of the stem will die off naturally, and as it holds on for a year or more, it will make the most excellent cylindrical habitat for enterprising creatures, such as lizards and carpenter bees. Don't cut up near the neck of the flower, which will give the plant a collar of long, spiny deadwood.

Actually, it might look cool. Very Mad Max.

But critics who complained about this post, you have a good point, I'm glad you made it and I hope that when staffers and we garden contributors stop blushing, we will all learn from it. It was utterly misclassified as a garden piece. It also ventured to impart information, which was wrong. I see Deborah's move swiftly to add the note that, while not from a Mediterranean climate zone, Strelitzias are not tropical and they are not particularly water hungry once established. But the big mistake was putting a nicely wrought glimpse of an LA flower in the garden category, alongside say, today's excellent piece by Ilsa Setziol looking at invasives (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2010/04/ecologist-christy-brigham-stands-amid-willows-hemming-medea-creek-in-the-santa-monica-mountains-the-trees-amber-leaves-gl.html ) . In that, the section did a disservice not just to readers, but to its own deep and strong commitment to good garden writing.

I should add that the good garden writing exists because Deborah Netburn, along with all the section's editors, works hard to get it in the paper. So let's stop giving her gyp and thank her.

So, to people who care enough about gardening that they write in, thank you! Deborah, you look at plants with amazement and joy. I'm thankful for that too. I'm especially grateful to have learned about Frances Gearhart. I love your posts and I love seeing LA's plants through newly amazed eyes. Thank you.

On reflection, I'd like to add another thought, this time about the remark "I remember the time that the LA Times had a real garden writer." I remember that time, too. Robert Smaus had one offering a week, tucked away in some unloved corner of the late SoCal Living. Since his retirement and the launching of Home seven years ago, a launch that I was deeply involved in for the sole purpose of bringing on horticultural coverage, the paper hasn't had a garden writer. It's had the best collection of garden writers in the region and, for my money, the country: Tony Keinitz, Lili Singer, Debra Lee Baldwin, Nan Sterman, Doug Kent, Lisa Boone. Latterly new, also accomplished writers have joined, including Debra Prinzing and Ilsa Setziol. Lisa Boone's garden listings are an unmatched region-wide weekly resource. Our copy desk is probably the only non-specialist one in the country whose editors know botanical style without having to look it up. We send Pulitzer prize winning photographers to capture gardens, not some intern too dopey to evade the assignment. Once the paper used to have one garden element a week. Given new on-line capacity, it has new garden pieces almost daily.

Given this standard, I understand that it must have been a rude surprise to see Deborah Netburn's innocent and frankly sweet post about S. Nicolai mis-categorized as a "garden" piece, but to suggest that it reflects a section wide slip is the opposite of true. There is more now, of deeper quality, than ever existed in this paper, or probably any other.

The LA Times does have a "real" garden writer. Her name is Emily Green. Her Dry Garden column is timely and very real.
You need to look for it online, as the column does not appear regularly in the print edition.
Giant bird of paradise is indeed drought tolerant, once established. I removed one simply because it didn't fit aesthetically.

The bird of paradise in South Africa is considered a member of the banana family.It's biological name is Strelizia reginae.The banana tree sports an exiquiste flower that is said to resemble the bird of paradise in full flight..


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