When it comes to eye-catching plants, there are few that rival the bird of paradise plant, and its larger counterpart the Strelitzia Nicolai or Giant White Bird of Paradise.
These gorgeous tropical plants are the perfect way to add a tropical touch of green to your home, garden or poolside. The Strelitzia Nicolai is a large, evergreen, palm-like tree that produces large white flowers that appear sporadically throughout the year.
Follow our growing guide for everything you need to know to cultivate, care for and grow this incredible plant.
Strelitzia Nicolai Plant Details
The Strelitzia Nicolai is a South African native plant, stemming from the Strelitziaceae family. More commonly known as the giant white bird of paradise or wild banana this cultivar can be found growing along with the coastal forests of Southern Africa.
Growing as a multi-stemmed, evergreen tree, the Strelitzia Nicolai has large fan-like leaves and dark boat-shaped bracts which produce 5 to 10 brilliant white petals. In the right environment, these flowers reach anywhere between 10” to 12”.
These plants are ideal for USDA zones between 10 to 11 and can be grown both indoors and outdoors. However, it is important to note that when grown indoors it is unlikely that your giant white bird of paradise plant will flower.
How to Grow Strelitzia Nicolai
These plants can grow in a range of environments and adapt to a range of light conditions. Still, plants like these enjoy warmth and humidity so it’s essential to plant out the right spot for your giant bird of paradise plant.
These plants are a great choice for outdoor areas like entrances, along with a pool or as a feature plant. However, if you experience a particularly cold winter with frost it can be very damaging to your plants. In these cases, it’s often better to grow yours indoors.
If growing indoors, your giant bird of paradise plant will adapt to a wide variety of indoor light. These plants do best in semi-shaded or full-sun. So, consider picking a spot with a south-facing window where plants will get dappled morning light.
For indoor growth, you’ll also need to ensure you give your plants enough space. In their natural environment, these plants reach as much as 20 feet in height. Consider a spot with high ceilings so as not to cramp your plants.
When it comes to soil, the wild banana thrives in sandy, loam type soils. No matter where you decide to grow, it’s essential to ensure a well-draining growing medium to avoid any issues.
For an ideal potting mix, consider a mixture of coarse sand and perlite for the best results. You’ll also need to ensure pots have sufficient drainage holes that allow any excess water to release.
Now, these plants don’t only have enormous, eye-catching flowers but they also have pretty invasive root systems which can affect the plants growing around. Consider which plants are in the vicinity, or grow yours in a pot to be safe.
Planting Bird of Paradise Plants
Smaller and more established varieties can sometimes be found at local garden centres. Although it may take some hunting. Once you’ve found your plant, it’s time to get ready to plant.
Here is what you’ll need to do:
- If growing in the ground, prepare a hole that is twice the size of the current pot in which your wild banana is growing.
- Soak the hole to ensure a moist planting site.
- Remove the plant from its original plant, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Situate the plant in the centre of the hole and backfill with soil.
- Pat the soil down to remove any air pockets and secure the base of the plant.
- If growing in a pot, pick a pot that is one size larger than the original pot.
- Prepare a sandy, perlite soil mixture and fill a third of the pot with soil.
- Place the root ball into the pot and backfill with soil.
- Press down the soil to remove air pockets.
- Water well in the first few days.
Established plants that grow in pots should be replanted every 3 years to replenish the soil and nutrients.
Strelitzia Nicolai Propagation
While propagation from seed is possible, most growers prefer propagating from the rhizomes which sucker out at the base of the plant.
Seeds can take a long time to develop and reach maturity, which in turn means they will take longer to flower. Here is what you’ll need to do:
Propagating Strelitzia Nicolai from Seed
- Seeds can be bought or removed from flowering plants.
- Prepare a small seedling tray with a well-draining seeding mix.
- Sow the seed and cover it with a layer of compost. (learn how to make your own compost here)
- Keep in a well-shaded area and mist regularly to keep the soil moist.
- Young plants can be replanted once they are large enough to handle.
Propagating Giant White Bird of Paradise from Suckers
- Healthy plants tend to produce a wealth of little off-shoots at the base of the plant, which can be used to propagate new plants.
- Remove suckers during the spring.
- Suckers can be kept in water or dipped into a rooting hormone (get the best rooting hormones here) and planted into a small pot.
- If growing in water, be sure to exchange the water frequently to ensure the water remains fresh.
- If growing in a pot, be sure to keep the soil moist but not wet.
- Keep young plants in a warm sun-dappled area free from any harsh weather.
Well established plants can also be multiplied by means of root ball division. It is essential to only divide thriving plants and to give plants plenty of time to heal in between.
When replanting, simply divide the root ball with a sharp blade and pull the rhizomes apart, taking care not to damage too many roots.
Strelitzia Nicolai Care Instructions
The giant white bird of paradise plant doesn’t require a massive amount of maintenance throughout its growing cycle. The most important part of your plant care will be focused on maintaining the right level of moisture and humidity – especially if growing indoors.
Many growers recommend watering regularly while allowing the soil to dry out in between. These are drought-tolerant plants, so less is definitely more.
Root rot is also a common killer of the giant white bird of paradise which is why monitoring the level of water is essential.
If you’re concerned about indoor plants, consider misting rather than watering. If you do decide to soak the soil, water only around 1-inch deep every week or so.
Pour water around the radius of the pot, this will allow water to slowly soak towards the base of the plant – preventing a potential rot issue.
Wild banana plants can also be sensitive to salt buildup in the soil. Consider using filtered, distilled or rainwater as an alternative to tap water to avoid this issue.
Fertilizers can be added during the spring and summer to support plants. Be sure to use a balanced, liquid fertilizer that you can mix into your water occasionally. Be very careful not to over-fertilize these plants. Avoid fertilizing in winter altogether.
Pruning is not often necessary but can be done from time to time to maintain size and remove dried, wind damaged and dying leaves. Spent flowers can also be removed and kept as decoration or discarded.
Giant White Bird of Paradise Pests & Diseases
These are known to be rather hardy plants, and most outdoor growing wild banana trees don’t encounter too many issues. However, indoor plants can be susceptible to common pest and disease problems. These include:
- Root Rot
- Spider Mites
- Mealybugs - Learn how to get rid of mealybugs here
- Aphids - Here is our guide on how to identify and control aphids
Do your best to ensure the right conditions for your plants to avoid these issues. Especially when it comes to monitoring how often you water. Regularly check the soil to ensure it Is drying out sufficiently.
Spider mites, mealybugs and aphids can be treated with neem oil or insecticidal soap. If the issue is mild and plants are well established, consider spraying plants with a strong gust of water to remove as many of the pests as possible.
Add Tropical Element to Your Garden by Growing Strelitzia Nicolai
If an element of tropical surprise is what you’re looking to add to your garden, then it’s time to start considering the giant white bird of paradise plants. Or if you’re needing a new large, evergreen indoor plant, it surely is to be the right pick.
Be sure to choose the right soil medium, ensuring that the soil is draining when it needs to. Take care with your watering routine and give your Strelitzia Nicolai some dappled sun for absolute success.