Bird on the wing

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

An ex­otic plant from the Ca­naries of­ten finds its way back with tourists. David Ov­erend re­ports.

These days, any­one fly­ing back from a week or more in Madeira or the Ca­naries could be for­given for think­ing that many of their fel­low trav­ellers are keen botanists. For so many of them ar­rive back in the UK with liv­ing re­minders of what sun­shine and warmth can bring – flow­ers. And one flower in par­tic­u­lar.

Many years ago, I met a York­shire­man who had grown a bird of par­adise flower – and man­aged to make it bloom (ad­mit­tedly, in a heated green­house).

He had per­se­vered for a decade or more to make the plant pro­duce just one small orange flower, but he was de­lighted be­cause he lived on the flanks of the Pen­nines.

Back in those days, it re­ally was a great achieve­ment; even to­day, there aren’t that many bird of par­adise flow­ers grow­ing in this coun­try.

But fly a few hours south and you’ll re­alise that on their home ter­ri­tory they flour­ish – a bit like a very colour­ful, strik­ingly ar­chi­tec­tural weed. Be­cause Stre­litzia regi­nae isn’t that dif­fi­cult to cul­ti­vate if it gets the right con­di­tions.

It’s a low-main­te­nance ev­er­green peren­nial which is fairly tol­er­ant of most soil con­di­tions, and, once it has es­tab­lished it­self, doesn’t even need much wa­ter. Given a de­cent soil and plenty of sun and warmth, it will flower sev­eral times a year.

Note the word ‘warmth’ – the bird of par­adise flower isn’t a lover of cold weather, so be­fore you buy a plant, make sure your gar­den can house it safely. The word ‘con­ser­va­tory’ springs to mind.

S regi­nae is slow-grow­ing and won’t flower for sev­eral years un­til it is well es­tab­lished, so apart from that con­ser­va­tory, you’ll need plenty of pa­tience.

If you pos­sess both, then you may like to con­sider your very own bird of par­adise plant to show off to friends and neigh­bours. Pot it up in a large con­tainer and wa­ter and feed it oc­ca­sion­ally with a high-potash fer­tiliser.

In the wild, the ten­der leaves drop off as they age, leav­ing the base of the plant’s stem bare; in a big pot, the plant won’t grow tall and its stem should re­main de­cently clothed in fo­liage. Top-dress an­nu­ally and re-pot ev­ery year.

If all that sounds like too much trou­ble, buy a few of those won­der­ful flow­ers; many florists now of­fer them for sale.

Even bet­ter, take a win­ter hol­i­day in the Ca­naries and come home with a liv­ing re­minder of what life is like on a semitrop­i­cal is­land.

FUSSY BIRD: Stre­litzia regi­nae, the so-called Bird of Par­adise plant.

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