The Bird of Paradise, scientifically known as Strelitzia, is native to South Africa and is defined by its broad leaves and beautiful plumage. If you have one of these gorgeous plants, you may have noticed that sometimes it can be a bit finicky, showing its displeasure as discoloration in the leaves. Why does this happen? Why are the leaves of your Bird of Paradise turning yellow or brown?
If your Bird of Paradise is turning yellow or brown, the most common cause is over- or underwatering or not receiving enough sunlight. However, it could also result from pests or needing to be repotted into a larger container. Before you treat the issue, you’ll need to do a bit of investigating to uncover exactly what is causing the discoloration.
This article will cover all of the different reasons your Bird of Paradise might turn yellow or brown, including problems with watering, sunlight, and humidity. Keep reading for ten reasons why your Bird of Paradise houseplant may not be looking its best.
Why Your Bird of Paradise is Turning Yellow
If you’ve noticed that your Bird of Paradise is turning yellow, it may be for various reasons. Before you can decide the best way to fix it, you’ll need to determine what the problem is. Yellowing leaves are often one of the first indications of a problem, so catching it quickly is essential.
Reason #1: Your Bird of Paradise is Overwatered
If you’ve noticed that your Bird of Paradise is beginning to yellow, you may be overwatering it. Overwatering can lead to root rot and will eventually kill your houseplant. Root rot is a fungus that attaches to the roots, causing them to turn brown and mushy.
Once this happens, the roots become unable to take up nutrients and water. This prevents the plant from growing and thriving. Left like this for too long, your Strelitzia’s leaves will yellow and eventually die off.
Root rot can’t be reversed, but it can be stopped if caught soon enough. If you suspect that your plant has root rot, feel the soil: if it is sopping wet, this is likely what’s causing your Bird of Paradise to turn yellow. Now it’s time to take a quick look at the roots to determine the severity of the problem.
Slide your Bird of Paradise from its container (ask a friend for help if you have a particularly large specimen), and brush away the dirt so you can get a good look at the roots. Healthy roots are white and crisp. Rotted roots are brown, grey, or black, and slimy or mushy.
If your roots are still white and crisp, you’ve been overwatering, but it hasn’t resulted in root rot yet. Let your plant dry out before adding any more water, and always check that the top one to two inches of soil is dry before watering in the future.
If the roots have started to rot, you’ll need to take more action to correct the problem. Using clean pruning shears, cut back all affected roots, disinfecting your blade between cuts to not spread the infection to healthy parts of the plant. Often, root rot is too far along to save the whole plant, so be ruthless with your root pruning. Your best shot at nursing your plant back to life is to rid it of its infection completely.
After pruning back all the roots that aren’t white and crisp, repot your Bird of Paradise into a new pot with new potting soil. If you must reuse the old pot, clean it thoroughly with a diluted bleach solution to kill any fungi lurking around the edges before placing your Bird of Paradise back inside.
Set your Bird of Paradise back in its location and keep a good eye on it. It will experience some shock from the severe root prune you did, but if you’re lucky, it will bounce back in a month or so.
Reason #2: Your Bird of Paradise is Underwatered
On the flip side, yellow leaves can also indicate that your Bird of Paradise is being underwatered. This may make diagnosing your Strelitzia’s yellow leaves sound a little bit difficult, but there is a simple way to determine whether you’re under or over watering. Check the soil!
If you suspect that your Bird of Paradise is being underwatered, stick your finger down into the soil. If the first few inches are dry, this may be the problem. A Bird of Paradise must be allowed to dry between waterings but not so much that the entirety of the soil is bone dry.
The way to correct this issue is simple: give your Bird of Paradise more water more frequently! Make a habit of poking your finger into the soil and checking for moisture when you pass by. If the top two inches of soil are dry, go ahead and add more water. (If they are not, wait a few days and then check again.)
If you feel like you’re constantly watering your Bird of Paradise and still having an underwatering issue, the concern may be more about quantity and less about frequency. When you water your Bird of Paradise, do so thoroughly so that about 20% of the water you put in runs out through the drainage hole in the bottom. This is the best way to ensure that all parts of the roots and soil are moist. But don’t forget to empty the saucer afterward. No houseplant wants to sit in a puddle of water for long.
Reason #3: Your Bird of Paradise Needs More Light
If you’ve noticed that your Bird of Paradise is turning yellow, but you’re confident that your watering is correct, the problem may be the lighting. In their natural habitats, Strelitzias receive full sunlight… which can be difficult to emulate in a home.
Ideally, a Bird of Paradise should receive around 6 hours of direct sunlight a day when kept inside. Positioning your plant near a west- or south-facing window is the best way to achieve this. But if you’re struggling to find enough sunlight, there are other options.
Grow lights are becoming increasingly popular, especially for people in apartments or northern regions without much sunlight. They come in the form of lamps or bulbs that produce light that mimics the sun’s spectrum. They aren’t a perfect solution to lowlight homes, but they can help make up the deficit causing your Bird of Paradise to turn yellow.
Even though my Bird of Paradise is placed in a room with a south-facing window, I still have it under a grow light. These sun-loving-beauties often need a bit more than the natural light typically available in our homes, so I supplement with the Sansi 15W LED grow bulb and set it up on an outlet timer to turn on for about 10 hours each day.
Reason #4: Your Bird of Paradise is Nutrient-Deficient
If nothing has changed and your otherwise healthy Bird of Paradise is beginning to yellow, it may be caused by nutrient deficiencies. All plants require nutrients to grow and survive. They become depleted from the soil over time, so it’s vital to regularly replenish your Bird of Paradise.
The easiest way to do this is to use fertilizer. These can be tricky to master because too much can cause root damage. Always follow the directions provided by the manufacturer to ensure that you don’t accidentally harm your plant and dilute the mixture to half-strength. Remember, you can always add more fertilizer later on, but it can be difficult to undo the damage caused by too much.
Generally, a Bird of Paradise enjoys being fertilized once a month. You can increase or decrease this depending on your plant and how it responds. Just remember, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and under-fertilize your Strelitzia. Over-fertilizing can rapidly destroy its roots, causing irreparable damage.
Reason #5: Your Bird of Paradise is Too Hot or Cold
Because these plants come from semi-tropical regions, they are susceptible to changes in temperature. Ideally, a Bird of Paradise should be kept between 65-80 degrees.
If your home struggles to maintain those temperatures due to the region you live in, it may be causing your Strelitzia to turn yellow. Adjusting your thermostat is the best way to address this. If that isn’t an issue, try moving your plant away from any sources of hot or cold drafts.
A Note on Yellowing Leaves
You may notice that some of the causes of yellow leaves can also cause brown leaves. Often, yellowing is the precursor to browning… so, keep that in mind when diagnosing what your plant’s problem is. Caught early enough, an issue that causes brown leaves may not ever progress past yellow leaves.
Why Your Bird of Paradise is Turning Brown
A Bird of Paradise turning brown can be a severe issue, but it isn’t always. Generally, leaves with brown tips indicate that there is an issue with the root system. It can be something simple, like chemical damage from using the wrong water, or something more serious, like root rot.
Reason #1: Your Bird of Paradise is Over- or Underwatered
Watering issues can cause both yellowing leaves and leaves with brown edges and tips. This is arguably the most common reason for a Bird of Paradise having brown leaves. I’ve covered each issue, both over and underwatering, in the section above on yellow leaves. For more information, scroll back up.
To test which is your issue, feel your plant’s soil. Soil that is dry past the first inch or two of soil is too dry. Soil that is sopping wet or stays moist for longer than a couple of days after watering is too wet.
Some browning can be reversed if caught early, and in cases of overwatering, brown leaves don’t necessarily indicate root rot. It’s important to rule this out, though, so take a look at the roots.
If you chronically struggle to get watering right, invest in a
Reason #2: Your Bird of Paradise Has Root Rot
While no one wants to hear this, root rot is a common cause of brown leaves for a Strelitzia. Caused by standing water, plants with root rot will slowly die back as their roots are destroyed. It’s imperative that you catch it quickly.
If your Bird of Paradise is exhibiting brown leaves, it may be too far gone to salvage. The first indications of root rot are usually yellowing and wilting leaves. Brown leaves, including brown edges and tips, indicate a later stage of root rot.
If you suspect this is the issue, take a look at the roots. Healthy roots are white and stiff. A Bird of Paradise with root rot will usually have mushy brown roots that may fall off when touched. If this is the case, go back to the section above about yellow leaves due to overwatering and follow my guide for dealing with root rot.
Reason #3: You’re Watering With Tap Water Full of Minerals
While having enough nutrients is essential, having too many can cause the tips of a Bird of Paradise’s leaves to turn brown. Often, this comes from watering your plant with the wrong types of water. Tap water is a common cause of brown leaf tips.
Filled with additives, tap water can cause calcium and fluoride build-up. This build-up tends to attach itself to the plant’s roots, resulting in chemical burns. When the roots become burned, they die back and cause brown tips. This build-up often forms inside the planter, so if you spot a white crust on the interior of your container, it’s time to flush the soil.
To prevent browning from tap water, the best choice is to water your Strelitzia with either rainwater or filtered water. Rainwater is the superior choice because it usually contains trace nutrients that give your plant an extra boost. But it isn’t always an option, especially in arid areas.
Filtered water, then, is an excellent second choice. If you’re purchasing bottled water, opt for distilled: spring water is generally bottled municipal water… which is tap water.
If you suspect your Bird of Paradise has already been damaged by a build-up of minerals in the soil, there is a quick solution. Flushing the soil with distilled water can help draw out the build-up, removing it from the soil and roots. To do this, set your plant in your sink or shower and run a lot of water through the plant until it runs out the drainage hole in the bottom. Then, moving forward, water with rain or distilled water.
Reason #4: Your Bird of Paradise Has Pests
Another nightmare problem for your Bird of Paradise is the presence of pests. Pests come in all shapes and sizes, and each varies in how difficult they are to treat. Despite being generally pest-free, Strelitzias can pick up mealybugs and scale.
Mealybugs are a variety of scale insect that leaves a white, dust-like residue on plants. They feed on the plant and secrete a compound that attracts ants, creating a whole other issue. Because they eat Bird of Paradises, a large enough outbreak can cause significant damage and spread to other plants in your home.
Other types of scale insects can cause similar damage to Strelitzias. Some are armored, making them difficult to remove. Others produce more significant amounts of secretions.
The best way to deal with these pests and most others is to remove them and wipe the plant with rubbing alcohol. Neem oil and organic pesticides also work. Be thorough when treating your Bird of Paradise. Otherwise, an outbreak can quickly return.
For more information on the most common types of pests infesting Birds of Paradise and how to treat them, read this article.
Reason #5: Your Bird of Paradise Needs More Humidity
Because these are semi-tropical plants, some humidity is necessary to help them thrive. If your Bird of Paradise is kept in an area that is too dry, you’ll probably notice the tips of its leaves browning. This is usually because the lack of humidity has caused the soil to dry out too quickly.
To avoid this, try keeping your Bird of Paradise somewhere more humid; bathrooms, kitchens, and basements are commonly the most humid rooms in the average home. Experiment with your plant’s placement, keeping in mind that it will still need access to lots and lots of bright sunlight.
If you can’t move it due to light constraints, try introducing a small humidifier. This can be great for other plants as well, as most seem to thrive with some humidity. We’ve got a guide about our favorite humidifiers and how to use them successfully with houseplants here.
A Note on Browning Leaves
It’s easy to become freaked out by leaves turning brown: they can look a little bit dead! Try to remember that a brown tip here or there isn’t always cause for alarm. Always investigate, but if nothing is clearly wrong and the browning doesn’t spread, there might not be an issue.
As plants age, their oldest leaves naturally turn yellow and brown and die back. This is no cause for concern. If you have only one or two brown leaves, and they’re near the bottom of the plant, don’t worry. Simply cut them back and let your Bird of Paradise produce new and healthy foliage.
An Overview of Leaf Problems
While many things can cause discoloration in leaves, there are a couple shortcuts to remember if you are trying to better care for your Bird of Paradise. Overwatering causes yellowing, wilting, and browning leaves. The easiest way to diagnose this is by testing the soil. Soaking wet soil is bad news.
Overwatering does not always mean that a plant has root rot. Root rot happens only in cases of severe chronic overwatering. If your Bird of Paradise looks a little discolored and droopy, it’s usually enough to let it thoroughly dry before watering less frequently.
Underwatering usually causes wilting, yellowing, and then browning leaves. Wilting should come first—if you’ve noticed that your Bird of Paradise isn’t as perky as it usually is, this is probably why. Underwatering is generally less severe than overwatering, unless you haven’t watered your Strelitzia in a long time.
Everything else can be diagnosed on a case-by-case basis. Pests are usually easy to identify because you can actually see them on the leaves and stems of the plant. Nutrient and mineral issues should be the last problem you try to rule out because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms beyond the leaves changing colors.
Putting It All Together
The Bird of Paradise can be a showstopper. Their beautiful flowers can be challenging to draw out, often taking years for the plant to establish itself enough to bloom. They’re also a little bit picky and tend to be particular about the conditions that they live in.
This shouldn’t discourage you from owning one, however. Enough patience and attentive care can produce beautiful results. Just try to pay attention to your Strelitzia. A successful plant gets whatever help it needs right away. Many of the issues talked about in this article only become serious when they’re allowed to fester.