Very different species of birds of paradise plants can sometimes share the same common name, and nowhere is this more true than with the flowering plants known as "bird of paradise." Species from two entirely different plant genera share this common name, and that's just about the only thing similar about these birds of paradise. One type of bird of paradise plant is a low-growing jungle plant with unique exotic flowers, a relative of the banana tree, while the other type is a member of the pea family, a thorny shrub or tree that loves desert environments.
Here are five different species from two disparate plant Strelitzia genera, each commonly known as "bird of paradise."
1. Bird of paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae)
This kind bird of paradise variety has long leathery leaves reminiscent of those on the banana tree, to which it is related. The leaves are stiff clumps that sprout from a ground-level base, while the flower rests atop a rigid stalk and is composed of orange sepals of plant and blue petals. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the head and crown of an exotic bird, the blooming flowers that look like birds appear sporadically through the growing season as many as 25 times per year.
2. White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)
White bird of paradise is a considerably larger species than most of the Strelitzia genus, with flowers that look like a bird of paradise plant. But it has white sepals forming the crown of the plant and a bluish-purple "tongue." The large gray-green leaves can easily be confused with its relative, the banana tree species of bird plant.
3. Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Plants of the Caesalpinia genus that carry the common name "bird of paradise" are much different from the Strelitzia species. Caesalpinia pulcherrima, sometimes known as "pride of Barbados," "red bird of paradise" or "peacock flower," is a fast-growing, broad-leaved evergreen shrub native to arid regions. Bird of paradise blooms repeatedly with red-orange flowers. At the northern end of its range, this bird of paradise plant may be deciduous.
4. Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana)
Closely related to the red bird of paradise, the Mexican bird of paradise is another broad-leaved evergreen tree but with blooming flowers that tend toward yellow. It has a somewhat better cold tolerance than C. pulcherrima, remaining evergreen down to 15 degrees. It blooms repeatedly with clusters of yellow flowers that resemble azaleas, and the seed pods and leaf shape make its membership in the legume family obvious.
5. Yellow Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii)
Caesalpinia gilliesii, commonly known as "yellow bird of paradise," "bird of paradise bush," or "poisiana," is a shrubbier form of Caesalpinia, which is evergreen in warmer climates. It has red or yellow azalea-like flowers that bloom in July and August months. The fern-like leaves identify it as a member of the legume family. The seeds expel when the pods dry out; this plant self-seeds very easily and may escape and naturalize into the surrounding area landscape.