Bird of Paradise – Strelitzia reginae
Edward Donovan, a collector of natural history specimens, wrote about the Bird of Paradise in his short-lived series, The Botanical Review, or the Beauties of Flora (1789-90). His account of the rare plant from South Africa was one of many that appeared in the late 18th century, after Sir Joseph Banks introduced the plant at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Banks, famous as an explorer and naturalist, was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; in this capacity, he sent many botanists abroad to collect plants.
Lately, a Friend of ours, in a voyage to China, touched at the Cape of Good Hope, and thence transmitted, among other drawings and remarks, a figure of the Strelitzia Reginae,* copied from the best specimen he could procure. We have seen the Plant at the Royal Garden at Kew, the Physic Garden at Chelsea, and in the stoves* of several private Gentlemen, whence, allowing for the imperfections of art and the method of cultivating it, we conceive is sufficiently accurate to convey an idea of the original.
*Banks named the Strelitzia reginae in honor of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who lived at Kew for many years.
*A kind of greenhouse; stoves enabled botanical enthusiasts the ability to grow tropical plants in colder latitudes. Books such as Charles McIntosh’s “The Greenhouse, Hothouse, and Stove” (1840) provided detailed information for building and maintaining these structures.
To the unwearied researches, expensive undertakings, and laudable intentions of SIR JOSEPH BANKS, Bart. the friends of the science stand indebted (among a numerous collection) for the Plant which is at present held in universal estimation, and whose extreme scarcity adds strongly to the obligation.
It was introduced in 1773*, but we do not understand it has yet produced seeds sufficiently perfect to furnish healthy flowering Plants. The specimen at Chelsea, by the swelling of the Spatha, &c. bears a favorable indication of the Seeds ripening.
* The Strelitzia was introduced into Britain by Francis Masson, a Scottish botanist and gardener at Kew. He was one of the first men sent by Banks to collect global plant specimens.
Whilst confined to Kew, Chelsea, and the stoves of individuals, the curious cannot gratify themselves with a critical examination of its parts, it is therefore to be wished for that Seeds will be produced which may render the Species more plentiful.*
*Strelitzia can be propagated by seed or by division. It can take up to ten years for a seed-propagated plant to flower. Click here for propagation information.
It flowers in April, May, and June. The Petals (which to each are three) are of an orange colour, in some inclining more to yellow than in others: the Nectarium, which is of a deepish blue, admits of equal variation, even in its native soil, and emits, at the time of flowering, a vast quantity of Nectar.
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The Plant, if healthy, will grow three, four, or five feet high, and will bear from three to ten, or more, flowers on each Spatha: in the stove it requires a light and warm situation, and is propagated by Seeds, in white loam and a small quantity of bog earth.
Read about a child’s experience with this plant in “Paradise No More.”
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As a lover of plants and their origins,I look forward to each new entry.