All About The Bird Of Paradise Flower

bird of paradise flower

The orange and blue bird of paradise flower is so distinctive. I have photographed the flower in different locations. In fact, we used a photo of the flower for our ‘Wild Hair’ greeting card. More about that below.

The bird of paradise flower is also known as the crane flower. It certainly looks like some exotic bird or like the beak of a crane with that flower that sits at ninety degrees to the stem. It certainly looks more like a bird’s beak than a flower.

The actual makeup of the flower is three orange sepals and three purplish-blue or white petals. And the plant I photographed was growing in a large pot in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens greenhouses.

This specimen is about two metres tall with the very big evergreen leaves you can see in the photo above and in this photo.

leaves from the bird of paradise plant

The Bird Of Paradise Flower: From South Africa To Britain

The plant is native to the Cape Provinces and Natal in South Africa.

The botanist Joseph Banks brought the plant to Britain in 1773 and raised it at Kew Gardens in London. In 1788 Banks gave it the Latin name Strelitzia reginae in honour of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland as the wife of King George Ill. They married in 1761 and were together 57 years until her death. In that time she had 15 children. Two died and thirteen survived into adulthood. I absolutely cannot imagine a modern Queen having that many children.

Naming plants after notable people was quite the thing in those days, so it is no surprise that Banks named the flower in honour of someone. Even into our time botanists or flower growers name flowers after famous people. The one that springs to mind is the rose Queen Elizabeth.

When Banks brought the plant back to Britain, South Africa around the Cape was settled by Dutch settlers. But South Africa was essentially a Zulu Kingdom. The British didn’t colonise South Africa until 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

A small blue and orange bird confronting a Strelitzia or Bird Of Paradise flower, with speech bubble and text 'Wild Hair, Man!'

The Latin name that Banks gave the plant may be the first Latin name it was given, but it was not its first common name. It is no surprise that the plant was named long before Banks came along.

Bird Of Paradise Or Isigude In Nguni

The name of the plant in Nguni (the common language of the peoples who inhabit the Cape and Natal) is Isigude. In Zulu and in Xhosa, using Google Translate, the word equates to the English word ‘smooth’.

The long-out-of-date Zulu-English dictionary (captured on the Internet Archive) and available to read on-line, translates isigude simply as ‘tree’.

A Bird Of Paradise Greeting Card

Meanwhile, we have a card featuring a bird of paradise plant beheld by a small bird calling out ‘Wild Hair, man’.The little bird cries out because it is confused, thinking that the flower is an another bird.

The card is available in our store. Just click this link or the little picture of the card and it will take you to the product page in our store. Or you can just go to the store and look in the Humorous Cards section of the Occasions master category, which you can see in the main navigation menu.

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