​Bird of Paradise or “False Bird of Paradise”? (Strelitzia or Heliconia)

While easily confused by the similar paddle-shaped leaves and spectacular “bird-like” flowers, these plants are native to different regions of the world and require different conditions in order to thrive.

Heliconia, sometimes called “lobster claws” or “parrot flowers”, is found in South America, Mexico and Central America. Hummingbirds are the main pollinator in the rainforest environment of this “false bird of paradise”.

Strelitzia is a South African native pollinated by sunbirds . They like a moist soil but can survive without much water once they are established. This plant is often called “crane flower” and is the one which bears the common name “Bird of Paradise”.

Colorful bracts (false leaves) protect the flowers of the Heliconia while the inflorescence (flower) of the Strelitzia emerge from a stout horizontal spathe. The spathe provides a convenient landing surface for the sunbirds that pollinate the Strelitzia. The bird lands on the spathe and its weight opens the spathe at which time the flower releases pollen onto the bird's feet. The flowers of the Heliconia, some of which have upright facing flowers and some of which have flowers which dangle down from the main stem, require the long proboscis of the hummingbird to get to the nectar (and pollen) of the flower.

Photos by Sue Dunn

Heliconia (Lobster Claws)

Heliconia (Lobster Claws)

Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise)

Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise)