What to Plant in September

Today is the first day of spring and this is the first planting guide of the season. The following is a list of vegetables you can plant in September in Sydney, a temperate zone. Just click on the link for the growing guide for each vegetable or herb:

Plant of the Month – Strelizia reginae (Bird of Paradise)

(click on any image in this post to view more detail of the Strelizia reginae)

The stunning Strelizia reginae is one of 5 species in the family Steliziaceae commonly named the Bird of paradise plant. It is a rhizomatous, clump-forming perennial plant, native to South Africa.

The famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks named the plant in honour of Queen Charlotte of Great Britain who was commonly known as Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. 

This popular plant adds dramatic structure to the garden with its stunningly beautiful, brilliant orange and electric violet-blue flowers that resemble the head of a bird of the Paradisaeidae family.

In fact, it reminds me of the African Grey Crowned crane as each spathe emerges on its long stem from the fan like masses of large oval leaves.

Tough and hardy, and able to withstand drought and light frost when mature, it grows to a height of 2 m tall with a width of 2-3 m wide clump in the garden and 1.2 cm tall in pots.

It can be grown from the tropics, through sub-tropics, warm temperate, to the sheltered areas of cold temperate climatic conditions.

The Bird of paradise plant is an easy to care for plant, suitable for beds or borders and large pots for verandas or indoors, and has long been a favourite for cut flowers. .

A new flower emerges from the leaves.

The deep green to blue-green leaves are very rigid and are about 60 cm long, and 15 cm wide. They are paddle shaped, thick and leathery with a long petiole, or leaf stalk that connects the leaf to the 70 cm long, stiff, cylindrical stems that emerge directly from rhizomes in the soil, rising a little above the leaves.

The leaves of the Strelizia are long and rigid .

The stem ends in an adapted leaf, which enfolds the inflorescence or spathe that is 20 cm long and grows horizontally. It is reminiscent of a boat shaped birds beak and it will go on to support real birds – the pollinators of the plant.

The boat shaped spathe with an open flower.

The spathe is usually green but can have  purple, violet or even red hues.

There are 4-7 flowers in the inflourescence that emerge successively and last about a week. Flowering is usually from April to November and also randomly through the year.

Each flower is made up of 3 vertical, vibrant orange sepals, 15cm long that resemble a bird’s crest and a corolla of 2 electric blue–violet, arrow shaped petals that come together and enclose the pollen bearing stuctures.

The two arrow shaped petals that cover the pollen.

Each flower has 5 stamens, with long anthers, whose filaments are attached to the 2 blue arrow shaped petals, as well as the pistil, whose white round stigma is at the end and is covered by a sticky substance.

The petals fall away with pressure to reveal the stamens with their long anthers and the pistil with the stiff rounded anther.

The third blue petal forms the nectar holding area is at the base of the orange sepals just beyond the widest part of the arrow shaped petals.

The nectar receptacle can be seen t the base of the petals.

a closer view o the anther and the interesting structure enclosing all the stamens.

Plants begin to flower after 5-6 years and are pollinated by nectar drinking birds.

They perch on the beak shaped spathe resting on the hard stigma that is sticky, moving onto the 2 blue arrow shaped petals and their weight opens the petals (as seen above) revealing the pollen that sticks to their feet and breast feathers as they drink the nectar. This pollen is then deposited on the next flower.

Double flowers occur quite commonly too.

One view of the double flower head.
Another angle of the double flower which commonly occurs with the Strelizia

As the flowers are successfully pollinated they each take 1-2 months to form seed pods.

Flowers have opened and been pollinated and the seed pods have formed for each of the flowers.

The fleshy seed pods are about the size of a passion fruit.

I have removed one to show the appearance. The spent flower is dried at the end.

They slowly dry out and it takes about 4-7 months to form the hard, woody seed pod that has three compartments that contain about 80 seeds.

After 4-7 months the pods dry out and open up to reveal the three chambers. There are some seeds still in this pod.

As the pods dry out they open outwards and release their seeds. They are brown to black with bright orange arils. These fall to the ground and will need another two months to germinate under good conditions.

The seeds have bright orange arils attatched that probably attract seed dispersers.

The Bird of paradise, as a tropical plant will adapt to areas that have mild winters.

A fully mature plant can withstand temperature ranging from -1 C to 40 C however the young plant will not. So selecting a site outdoors that will have some protection from these extremes will be important or perhaps choosing to grow it indoors in a pot.

The Bird of paradise plant will need a location which has good drainage and a loamy soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 6-6.5 for optimal growing conditions.

It has a tuberous, fragile, fleshy roots that can be up to 2.5 cm in diameter, and brownish orange. They form a dense intertwined mass. If restricted, the roots can grow horizontally covering a large area. Though generally slow growing over time the clump will expand and in time will be difficult to remove. Therefore good thought should go into assessing the space for the mature plant as well as thinning out the clump from time to time to keep it a manageable size.

The final site selected should be warm and sunny with protection from harsh or cold winds that the Stelezia reginae will not tolerate. The plant will still grow well with some shade but it needs 2-6 hours of sunshine to flower well.

Make the planting hole at least twice the size of the pot the plant comes in, blending in some good aged compost or aged composted manure and adding some controlled release fertiliser. Water in and ensure that the plant does not dry out during the establishment phase. Cover the root area with a mulch to conserve water, keeping it away from the stem area of the plant. The establishment of the plant will take about 12 weeks. Bird of paradise plant will do well with little or too much water if the soil is free draining but if flooded the roots of the plant will rot. Generally, it is wise to ease up on watering during the winter months.

For growing Bird of paradise in pots, use a premium-quality potting mix that will ensure good drainage. The pot should comfortably hold the root ball with 5 cm around it and good drainage holes and a saucer beneath it. Set the plant where it will receive good light about 1 m from a window. Keep the pot away from draughts and heat or cooling sources. If the temperature in the room will be above 20 C ventilate the room. Water only when the top layer of the plant is dry to avoid root rot.

Fertilize in spring and autumn with a general purpose fertilizer and the beautiful flowers will emerge from spring to autumn and even during winter. Make sure to remove spent flowers and dead leaves to conserve the plants energy.

Propagation of Strelizia reginae is best done by dividing of the plant and establishing a new clump or pot.

For those that may enjoy the challenge of raising a plant from seed the following site gives a detailed explanation of the process.

The stunning flowers of the Bird of paradise can be enjoyed in the garden or cut to make elegant floral arrangements indoors.

Below are some further images of plants flowering away to give us great joy. Its stunning colour, the beauty of the leaves, and its structure makes Strelizia reginae a stunning feature for any garden space.

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