Five Strelitzia species are endemic to southern Africa, with three of them commonly planted in gardens. The one thing they all have in common is an exotic flower that looks like the head of a crane. There are three upright, bright orange or white sepals and three dark blue, purple or white petals that emerge from a hard, beak-like structure that is called the spathe.
Two of the petals are fused to form a spear-like structure that holds the anthers. The third petal contains large quantities of nectar at its base. This fantastic design not only makes gardeners happy. It is also irresistible to sunbirds that pollinate the neighbourhood strelitzias as they drink the nectar.
Most suitable climate for Strelitzia
They prefer temperate to subtropical summer rainfall climates, but also grow well in the winter rainfall region with its dry summers.
What the Strelitzia needs
Location: full sun or light shade.
Soil: well drained, compost-rich, moist soil.
Water: medium water user. Water young plants regularly during summer. Established plants can survive periods of drought.
Fertilizing and pruning: lots of compost and a rich mulch of well-rotted manure or compost are usually sufficient. Young plants will benefit from a dose of slow-release fertilizer in spring and again later in summer. It is quite usual for old leaves to tear into strips in windy conditions and then to look untidy; remove these leaves and cut off old, spent flowers and flower stems at the same time.
In a nutshell
- Lovely cut flowers.
- Elegant growth habits.
- Water-wise and problem free.
- Generally slow grower.
Types of Strelitzia
- Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana) looks like a palm with long, banana-shaped leaves, which makes it exceptionally popular for tropical gardens and pool gardens. It can reach 8 m in height and forms dense clumps up to 3 m wide. This impressive size, and its large fleshy root system, has given S. nicolai a reputation for lifting pavers and destroying walls. The position where this species will be planted must therefore be planned carefully. The modern trend is to plant them in oversized pots on sheltered patios, where their size is inhibited but their foliage still flourishes. S. nicolai produces flowers from spring to late summer; its flowers differ slightly from those of other strelitzia. They are white and mauve, and one flower spathe sprouts out of another, which gives them a double-decker appearance. The other strelitzia species mentioned here have single flowers attached to long stems.
- Strelitzia reginae isone of our best-known indigenous plants that has established itself as a top quality cut flower all around the world. The stout, stately stems are topped with the unmistakeable boat-shaped spathe and crest of orange and blue petals that last for absolute ages. Their size and scale dictates that they are best in large arrangements in large rooms. The clump-forming plants are easy to grow in the warmer parts.
- Strelitzia juncea is a very sought-after species, but unfortunately also rather scarce and costly. S. juncea grows naturally in the driest, most arid regions of the Eastern Cape and has adapted to these conditions. It has very thin, almost reed-like leaves and grows in a dense clump, making it a lovely accent plant, and also very pretty in pots. The flowers are slightly smaller than those of S. reginae, but are just as attractive and appear from July to November. It is a slow grower.