The Full Story
The bird of paradise (Strelitzia species) is an exotic and visually stunning plant originally native to southern Africa that is now a popular houseplant. It produces large leaves similar to banana leaves and brightly colored flowers from the stem. The flowers, which have a striking resemblance to tropical birds, are what gives the plant its unusual name. There is another plant sometimes given the same common name, but it is of a different genus (Caesalpinia species) and will not be discussed here.
There are five species that fall under the Strelitzia genus:
- Strelitzia alba - "white bird of paradise"
- Strelitzia caudata - "mountain strelitzia"
- Strelitzia juncea - "African desert banana"
- Strelitzia nicolai - "white bird of paradise," "giant bird of paradise," "wild banana," "blue-and-white strelitzia"
- Strelitzia reginae - "crane Lily," "crane flower"
Of the five, Strelitzia nicolai and Strelitzia reginae are the two popularly owned houseplants. They are sturdy and have low-maintenance water and light requirements, which make them ideal to have as ornamentals in the house. An added bonus is that there is a consensus that the plant is generally safe. Most sources consider these plants non-toxic to humans, while others have reported the possibility of mild gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
If a child were to unintentionally eat a small piece of the plant, the likely outcome would be benign. However, it is important to consider other factors like the size of the piece and the total amount swallowed. For example, a large piece could be a choking hazard in a young child, and too much swallowed plant material that causes gastrointestinal symptoms can lead to dehydration. In general, as long as the airway is protected after an ingestion and any symptoms that develop are not severe or persistent, then worsening outcomes are not expected.
If you are worried that you or someone else might be having adverse effects from a bird of paradise plant, you can check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for help. Whether you log on or call, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.
Kristina Yee, PharmD, BS
Certified Specialist in Poison Information