In full bloom, this exquisite flower almost looks ready to take flight, just like the native New Guinea bird that inspired its name. Tropical bird of paradise, with its brilliant orange sepals and bright blue petal, blooms from early winter to late spring in the Tampa Bay area. An evergreen landscape shrub with thick, glossy green leaves that reach about 6 feet and spread to the same width, it's easy to grow in a sun or part-sun location regardless of soil, wind, salt and even cold temperatures. You can boost flowering with regular feedings of a 12-4-8 fertilizer. The exotic blooms are long-lasting, even when cut for an indoor arrangement. Use this tip from florists to make cut flowers really soar: coax tightly clumped bracts out of the protective sheath by gently lifting the blossoms between your thumb and index finger. When blooms fade, pinch them off and pull new ones from deeper within the pod.
COMMON NAMES: Bird's tongue flower, crane's bill and crane flower.
BOTANICAL NAME: Strelitzia reginae
OF INTEREST: There are several cultivars of S. reginae, including a yellow "Mandelas's Gold" and "Juncea," which produces small orange flowers. The white bird of paradise (Strelitzia alba) is a much larger (18 feet tall) tree-form plant that produces large white and blue flowers. Even larger at 30 feet tall, giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicholai) produces enormous 18-inch long white flowers with blue tongues and reddish-brown bracts.
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent