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Bird of Paradise

FLORA OF THE VALLEY

August 30, 1987|CLAUDIA PUIG

The exotic bird of paradise, with its orange-purple flowers, resembles the plumed head of a tropical bird. Although it looks like it should grow in a lush rain forest, it is frequently found everywhere in the Los Angeles Basin--in yards, parks, landscaped business and shopping centers, even alongside roads and freeways.

It is not surprising, then, that the dramatic-looking plant is the official city flower of Los Angeles.

Although it originated in South Africa, the plant is found throughout the United States and Europe and is cultivated outdoors in warm climates and in greenhouses by florists. An evergreen perennial, it fares well in lots of sunlight and a warm climate.

Its scientific name, \o7 Strelitzia reginae, \f7 derived from Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg- Strelitz, wife of King George III of England, who reigned in the late 1700s. The plant was introduced to Europe in 1773.

The bird of paradise grows to about five feet and its large, showy blossoms are purplish-blue, bright orange and white with free sepals and blue protruding petals. The flowers stand upright in a stiff, green or purple stalk. The bird-like flowers generally bloom in the spring, but can bloom in other seasons.

The plant's leathery, long-stalked, oblong-shaped leaves resemble those of the banana plant and are blue-green, 1 1/2-feet-long and four to six inches wide. A larger variety of the plant, known as the giant bird of paradise, is tree-like, growing up to 30 feet. Propagated for its dramatic display of banana-like leaves, its white and pale yellow flowers are incidental.

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