If you’re a Bird of Paradise lover, you may be wishing you could fill your home with these vibrant and beautiful plants. And while you can certainly purchase a Bird of Paradise from a greenhouse or attempt to grow one from a seed, we have an even better idea – division! This process can be accomplished by carefully dividing the plant at the rhizome level and repotting each newly separated Bird of Paradise.
To divide a Bird of Paradise houseplant, remove it from its containers and clear away as much dirt as possible from the root system. Then, examine the rhizomes to find a place to cut that will give each portion a healthy piece of rhizome and central stem. Make your cut with a sharp, clean knife and repot the two pieces.
While dividing a Bird of Paradise may seem like a daunting task, it is easier than it sounds. And with a few simple tips and a bit of patience, you can transform a solitary Bird of Paradise into a small collection. But first, let’s look at how this division is possible – starting with the rhizome.
But First: What’s Going on Under the Surface of Your Bird of Paradise?
When most people think of a plant’s roots, they usually think of thin strands that absorb water and nutrients from the soil. This root system is common among many types of plants, including many large trees, and offers various benefits. However, these types of roots can be difficult to divide and may be easily damaged or torn in the repotting process.
Bird of Paradise plants have a different, sturdier root system that can easily sustain division. These structures, which are thicker and rounder than typical roots, are called rhizomes.
Technically, rhizomes aren’t actually roots at all – they are actually a modified stem that supports the plant beneath the soil. Not only do these rhizomes absorb water from the soil – like a traditional root – they are also intended to help the plant store moisture and nutrients in case of a draught. In an adult Bird of Paradise plant, these rhizomes tend to look like potatoes, with smaller, tuber-like structures attached.
Because of their sturdy structure and ability to store nutrients, rhizomes don’t mind being completely split in two. After division, these rhizomes will grow and reproduce additional rhizomes, providing a support system for the plant above. This enables a Bird of Paradise to be divided and repotted multiple times throughout its life.
How Do Birds of Paradise Multiply?
Birds of Paradise produce seeds, which can be harvested directly from the plant’s seedpods or can be purchased from greenhouses and online retailers. If you wish to grow a Bird of Paradise this way, you certainly can, and watching any seed flourish can be deeply rewarding.
That said, growing a Bird of Paradise from seed can be challenging for a novice gardener since these seeds require special care before planting and can take several months to germinate. As a result, you may be waiting a long time to see your plant begin to grow.
A simpler approach to propagating your Bird of Paradise is through division. And while it may seem scary to cut into the rhizome of the Bird of Paradise, it creates two mature plants – which provide nearly immediate new growth.
Furthermore, as these plants grow and thrive, they can eventually be divided again, resulting in several healthy Bird of Paradise plants for your collection.
How To Determine If Your Plant Can Be Split
Not just for propagation, division is a strategy that can be used to save a damaged or infected plant. Since a portion of the plant can survive without the rest of the shoots, you can divide a healthy section from a sickly Bird of Paradise to save the plant.
That said, division can be a bit of an ordeal for a Bird of Paradise, and the ideal candidate for division will be a healthy and mature plant with many viable shoots. This will allow each new plant to have full stems and a healthy portion of the rhizome to support them.
Maturity is important for division because it indicates that your Bird of Paradise has developed a strong rhizome system, as well as several clusters of shoots to divide. Immature Bird of Paradise plants can still be delicate and may not recover quickly from a division.
Before dividing, also check that the stems of your Bird of Paradise are tall, uniformly green, and firm to the touch. Healthy, vibrant stems are usually attached to healthy root systems and are likely to have success in the division process.
As the dividing of your Bird of Paradise can entail a bit of work, it is often best to undertake this division along with standard repotting, so as to not upset the plant’s environment too frequently. Typically, Bird of Paradise should be repotted every 1-2 years. Overcrowding in the plant’s container, which can result in the appearance of rhizomes above the soil, is also an important indication that it is time to repot your Bird of Paradise plant.
It is wise to divide and repot your Bird of Paradise in the spring instead of the winter months. A plant experiencing winter dormancy has scaled back its growth and energy consumption and is less able to heal from injuries and environmental changes.
For this reason, significant cutting should be reserved until the start of the growing season, at which point the Bird of Paradise will be better able to recover from the shock of division.
Once you have determined that your Bird of Paradise is mature and healthy enough to be divided, and that it may benefit from repotting, there are some easy tips you can follow to make your plant division as smooth as possible – for you and for your plant!
Step By Step Instructions for Dividing Your Bird of Paradise Houseplant
The last thing most plant lovers want to do is to cut their plants. Pruning can be intimidating enough, but the idea of cutting your plant’s roots may be downright frightening – after all, healthy roots are how a plant survives. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a master gardener to successfully divide a plant.
In fact, the rhizome structure of a Bird of Paradise is suited to division, which helps the plant to rapidly grow and replicate in the wild. With this in mind, dividing your plant intentionally is a bit like giving nature a helping hand – and your plant will thank you for it!
Although dividing your plant isn’t necessarily difficult, it can get a bit messy. So, if you think you are ready to get started, make sure that you have gardening gloves, two planters with drainage holes, potting mix, and a clean, sharp blade – such as pruning scissors or a pruning knife – available.
You may also want to consider working outdoors or laying down large plastic bags, or a tarp, to protect your flooring from any moisture or spilled potting mix.
Step 1: Remove the Plant from its Pot
First, you will need to remove the Bird of Paradise from its container.
If your Bird of Paradise plant is large or top-heavy, you may want to lay the planter on its side. Don’t try to tip a heavy planter alone – you may break the planter, damage the plant, or hurt yourself. When in doubt, ask a friend for a helping hand.
Once the planter is on its side, run your finger, or a small blade, around the inner rim of the pot and gently wiggle the planter back and forth, pulling on it to loosen the plant. Stabilize the plant toward the base and never “yank” the plant from the pot. This can damage the rhizomes.
Once the plant is free, you should see rhizomes clustered together, accompanied by smaller tuber-like structures. Each rhizome will likely have a couple of stems growing out of it.
Step 2 – Clean It Up
Clear as much dirt as possible from the rhizomes, shaking the dirt off with your hands, and even rinsing, if possible. Only once most of the dirt is cleared away will it be easy for you to see the rhizomes and their connections to each other.
Step 3 – Divide Your Bird of Paradise
Examine the rhizomes, turning them over in your hands, if possible. In some cases, the rhizomes may already be separating naturally. In this case, you may be able to gently pull apart some of the rhizome clusters with your hands without damaging the plant.
If this is the case, feel free to gently pull apart some of the easily separated rhizome clusters. This will create one or more additional plants for your enjoyment.
However, in some cases, the rhizomes may have grown so close together that they look like a tangled block of tubes. This is one potential danger of the tendency to allow Bird of Paradise plants to be “root bound” in their containers.
If the rhizome is tightly compacted, look over the rhizome cluster for a place to cut that will allow each new plant to have a similarly sized portion of the rhizome cluster. The goal is to cut apart existing rhizomes while cutting into as little of the rhizome tissue as possible.
Once you have decided where you will cut, take your sharp knife and start cutting. But be careful and gentle as you cut. A rhizome cluster can be tough, and it can be easy for a blade to slip from your hand. Getting impatient or applying too much pressure to the blade could damage the plant or your hand.
Step 4 (Optional) – Prune Old Leaves
While you are in the process of dividing your plant, you may also want to take the opportunity to prune away any leaves or stems that appear to be fading or yellowing. These sections drain energy from the plant, and their removal is positive for the health of your Bird of Paradise.
Step 5 – Repot Your Divisions
Now that you have completed all of the cutting required, the rest of your work is to simply repot the newly divided plants, using the appropriate potting medium and a planter with adequate drainage holes.
Though slightly wounded from the division process, these plants are fully grown and can be treated as such. They do not require any special fertilizers to survive, and they do not need extra water or grow lights to assist with recovery.
However, be mindful that any plant that has gone through an environmental change may experience shock. This can appear in the form of limpness, reduced growth, or some isolated yellowing or leaf drop. Some amount of shock is natural and is very similar to a short-term period of dormancy, which will allow your Bird of Paradise to heal. Within a few weeks, your plants should begin to look healthy and vibrant again.
Can Bird of Paradise Be Grown from a Leaf Cutting?
While some plants, such as ZZ plants, can be propagated from a leaf cutting, Bird of Paradise stems require at least some healthy rhizome to be present before they will grow. That said, a large cluster of rhizomes is not required. A Bird of Paradise stem can be sustained by a single healthy rhizome.
A section of a plant that does not already have a rhizome attached will not create a rhizome of its own. With this in mind, you are welcome to discard any fallen or pruned leaves, since they alone will not propagate into a new plant, and focus your attention on preserving the sections with a rhizome attached.
Do You Have to Root a Bird of Paradise Division?
Those who have researched the topic of plant propagation have likely seen the term “root a cutting.” This refers to the process of creating an environment in which a plant cutting – often a stem or leaf – can begin to develop roots.
Often these pieces of leaf or stem are placed in water to allow the roots to form, though rooting in soil is usually best to provide structure to newly forming roots. Sometimes a rooting hormone – a product used to encourage the root development process – is also incorporated.
However, since a divided Bird of Plant already has a healthy portion of rhizome attached, it does not need to be rooted in the traditional sense. While the use of rooting hormone may encourage faster rhizome development – and help seal any cuts made to the rhizome area – a divided Bird of Paradise can be immediately planted in the appropriate soil and treated with regular care.
Putting It All Together
Bird of Paradise plants can be very large, reaching heights of six feet tall indoors, so the prospect of cutting these plants may seem overwhelming. Furthermore, no plant lover wants to risk the health of their plant by damaging its roots.
But keep in mind that the needs of each plant are different, and some species can adapt to division with success. Bird of Paradise is one of those plants!
Bird of Paradise can absolutely be grown from seed (more on that here!), but it takes significant time and attention. And while good things come to those who wait, division provides an almost immediate reward for a Bird of Paradise owner.
Additionally, since your Bird of Paradise will need to be repotted every 1-2 years, and a crowded pot is not ideal for your plant’s long-term health, division is a natural way to alleviate the burden on your plant.
Just remember to divide your plant in the spring to provide your plant with the time needed to heal and recover. Furthermore, try to minimize cutting by testing sections of the rhizome to see which may come apart most easily.
Dividing along sections that are already coming apart will be easier on your plant than cutting through healthy tissue. If the rhizome is too dense to come apart naturally, you can safely cut apart sections of the rhizome with a bit of patience and care.
Now that the hard part is done, just repot your plants and enjoy the product of your hard work. In a matter of weeks, you should see your Bird of Paradise plants thriving and, before you know it, they will be ready to divide again. How fun is that?
So, put your fears aside and your gardening gloves on because it’s time to divide your Bird of Paradise! Good luck and happy planting!