Bird of Paradise is known for its large tropical flowers. But with glossy, paddle-shaped leaves that can reach 18 inches in length, the foliage of these plants plays a central role in their health and beauty. With this in mind, it can be concerning for Bird of Paradise owners when these leaves begin to split and tear. But while there can be several reasons that Bird of Paradise leaves split, many of these issues can be quickly addressed, restoring your plant to its original beauty.
Bird of Paradise leaves are naturally prone to splits and tears, so this form of leaf damage is not necessarily fatal for your plant. However, depending on your plant care routine, it could indicate a need for increased humidity, better watering habits, or other strategies to improve the overall health of your Bird of Paradise.
By taking simple steps to address underlying plant health concerns, you can stop split leaves before they start and help keep your Bird of Paradise looking beautiful. Keep reading to learn more about Bird of Paradise leaves, why they split, and how you can keep them looking their best.
Bird of Paradise Foliage
Native to South Africa, Bird of Paradise is a tropical plant typically found growing in rainforest conditions. Its large leaves are an adaptation that allows the plant to absorb maximum sunlight while competing with other plants in this densely populated ecosystem.
Since sunlight is crucial to plant survival, Bird of Paradise leaves play an essential role in its overall health. A tropical evergreen plant, Bird of Paradise produces few new leaves compared to many houseplants, producing up to one new leaf each month during its growing season. Additionally, Bird of Paradise can keep a single leaf for years.
This is important to know because damaged leaves will not be replaced quickly, and substantial leaf damage can impair the plant’s ability to absorb light. That said, while yellowing and leaf drop are causes for concern, torn leaves are not always a sign of a sickly plant. But how can you tell the difference between a torn leaf caused by illness and a naturally occurring split?
Why Bird of Paradise Leaves Split
Because the rainforest environment in which Bird of Paradise naturally grows is characterized by high winds and heavy precipitation, its leaves are prone to splitting as a protective measure.
A close examination of a Bird of Paradise will reveal that its leaves are thin compared to the overall hardiness of the plant and that each leaf contains numerous, horizontal “veins.” These veins provide nutrition and structure to the leaf, and it is often along these veins that Bird of Paradise leaves tear.
However, just as the holes in the leaves of a Monstera allow wind to pass through without harming the plant, the leaves of a Bird of Paradise split along these veins to accommodate conditions that could otherwise cause greater damage.
But, if wind and rain can be eliminated as causes, these splits may suggest an underlying health issue. Since these leaves are fragile by nature, anything that compromises the plant’s well-being can also result in torn leaves.
So, what are the causes of torn leaves, and how can they be prevented?
Reason 1: Aging Leaves
As we have already mentioned, a Bird of Paradise plant can retain its leaves for years. When the cells within these leaves begin to age, they may become thinner and more fragile, appearing to droop or lack vibrancy compared to younger leaves.
If your Bird of Paradise is several years old, and you don’t see more significant issues, such as broken stems or yellowing of multiple leaves, aging is a likely cause for the leaf split.
While these older leaves do not necessarily need to be removed, they may be more prone to splitting. If you notice that an older leaf is beginning to tear, you may choose to remove it, or it can be allowed to age and drop naturally, without causing harm to the plant.
Reason 2: Wind Damage
Wind damage is unlikely for a plant that is kept indoors. However, a Bird of Paradise that has been moved to an outdoor area, and subsequently exposed to wind and rain, may exhibit signs of leaf splitting.
In this case, the leaf splits will not cause lasting harm to the plant. However, it is important to relocate delicate plants inside before storms or bouts of high wind. Not only can these conditions result in torn leaves, but they can also result in broken stems and tipped planters, which can cause lasting damage to your Bird of Paradise.
Reason 3: Watering Issues
Overwatering is a serious plant care mistake and is a common cause for various plant health issues, from limpness to yellowing, to leaf splits.
Potted plants can quickly become trapped in muddy soil, which deprives the plant of oxygen and nutrients. This resource scarcity can lead to plant shock and damage to Bird of Paradise roots, which will be reflected in the plant’s overall health (including the foliage).
With leaves that are already prone to developing splits, too much water will exacerbate this condition. But how can you tell if this is the reason for torn leaves?
A plant that has been overwatered will often exhibit continually damp soil, yellowing, browning, a musty smell, wilting, leaf drop, and mushy/blackening stems. If your torn leaves accompany any of these signs, they may be a signal of overwatering.
However, keep in mind that underwatering your Bird of Paradise will impact the health and beauty of your plant’s leaves, as well. Without adequate water, your plant’s leaves will be prone to dehydration, which will undoubtedly make it more prone to developing leaf damage.
Underwatered plants will have continually dry soil, which may noticeably pull away from the sides of the container. Also, the leaves of dry plants often exhibit yellowing, as well as wrinkling. These signs can help you determine if underwatering is the cause of your torn leaves.
Reason 4: Lack of Humidity
Humidity is especially important for tropical plants, and refers to the moisture in the air, not the hydration obtained from consuming water.
Just like dry air can cause your skin and eyes to feel itchy and sensitive, dry air can have a detrimental effect on the stem and leaves of your plant, thinning the dermal tissue and increasing the likelihood of damage.
Birds of Paradise prefer humidity levels around 60% to 70%, which helps protect the plant’s tissue, keeping it glossy and resilient. This can be achieved by relocating your plant to a bright, humid space, such as a well-lit bathroom, or by introducing a humidifier to your plant’s environment.
Uncertain about the humidity levels in your home? Purchase a hygrometer! These meters help you determine the humidity in the air around your plant and help you adjust accordingly. For more information on humidity and your Bird of Paradise, read this article.
Reason 5: Nutrient Issues
We mentioned earlier that overwatering can result in nutrient deficiency, resulting in torn leaves on your Bird of Paradise. However, nutrient issues can also result from overuse of fertilizer, mineral build-up, and soil depleted of nutrients.
There can be quite a bit of competing advice regarding incorporating fertilizer into your plant’s care routine. However, since too much fertilizer can act more like a poison than a cure, it is wise to introduce fertilizer gradually.
If you feel that fertilizer is needed, introduce a bit of general-purpose fertilizer, such as Jack’s 20-20-20 Houseplant Fertilizer, no more than once a month. Do not fertilize in the fall and winter, since your Bird of Paradise will not need the supplemental nutrients outside of its growing season. And I recommend diluting to 1/4 or 1/2 strength before applying to any houseplant.
Additionally, occasional use of distilled water, or rainwater, can help provide your Bird of Paradise with a break from the mineral content of tap water. While tap water is generally safe for plants, chemicals like chlorine and sodium can build up in the soil, contributing to nutrient issues.
As with any change to your plant’s care routine, it may take a few weeks to see effects. Furthermore, it is always wise to implement one change at a time – this strategy will help you identify any worsening leaf health issues and make any needed adjustments.
Reason 6: Lighting Issues
While too much unfiltered light on the leaves of young plants can lead to leaf dehydration, insufficient light is most likely to be the culprit of a leaf or stem issue.
Bird of Paradise should receive at least five hours of direct sun daily. However, since most North American locations receive only four to five hours of peak sun exposure, even during the summer months, most locations in your home may not receive adequate light for your plant.
Without adequate light, the leaves and stems of your Bird of Paradise will not grow as strong and robust as they otherwise can, a condition that may easily result in split leaves.
If you suspect that your Bird of Paradise is getting less than 5 hours of direct light each day, you may want to relocate your plant to a brighter location, such as close to a bright South-facing window or even outside on a sunny day.
You can also introduce a grow light to your plant’s environment to help increase your Bird of Paradise’s access to UV light. In time, this will improve your plant’s overall health, including the strength and thickness of its leaves and stems.
Reason 7: Improper Handling
While this might be the most obvious cause of plant damage, it is still worth mentioning. Since Bird of Paradise plants can be quite large – growing up to 6 feet tall indoors – they can become a bit unwieldy. Efforts to move the plant to a better location, repot the plant, open coiled leaves, or prune away aged flowers can easily result in a torn leaf or damaged stem.
To help protect the well-being of your plant, always handle it with care, and keep it safe from children and pets. Also, consider using a rolling planter if the container is too large to be easily moved. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or neighbor for help with any plant care task that might involve lifting, moving, or tipping a heavy planter. This will protect your Bird of Paradise and – more importantly, you – from any injuries.
Lastly, use caution when attempting to open Bird of Paradise leaves. Ideally, it is best to allow these leaves to open on their own and to avoid placing any strain on newly developing leaves. Doing so can result in immediate splits or in weakness as the leaf develops.
If you treat your plant with gentleness and care, you can avoid the common accidents that can damage your plant and impact its beauty.
Should I Remove Split Leaves From My Bird of Paradise?
While it is normal to feel some discomfort around the idea of clipping your Bird of Paradise, pruning is an easy technique for keeping a plant healthy.
Every stem, leaf, or flower that a plant produces expends energy and requires significant resources, such as sunlight, water, and nutrients, to support growth. Since pruning removes damaged leaves and stems, it allows the plant to dedicate its resources to fortifying its roots and creating new, healthier foliage.
Before you make any cuts, make sure that you have high-quality pruning gloves, as well as sturdy, disinfected pruning shears. Household scissors are not strong enough to cut through thick stems and can result in jagged cuts or injury.
When pruning a Bird of Paradise, you will want to make your cut as close to the base of the impacted stem as possible instead of simply snipping the leaf. That stem is unlikely to produce another leaf, but it will continue to drain energy from your plant.
Cut through the bottom of the entire stem and set aside any cut sections. Do not leave any fallen leaves in your Bird of Paradise planter since these leaves can introduce mold and insects to the container.
Also, keep in mind that, as an evergreen plant, your Bird of Paradise may not regrow new leaves quickly. Pick and choose your pruned leaves carefully. If your plant has multiple split leaves, you may not want to cut them all at once to not diminish your plant’s access to light.
How to Keep Bird of Paradise Leaves from Splitting in the Future
As previously mentioned, Bird of Paradise leaves are designed to split under stress and will become more likely to develop splits with age. As a result, it is unlikely that you can prevent all splits from occurring. However, with proper care, you can reduce the likelihood of leaf damage resulting from issues with your plant’s environment or handling.
Watering is one of the most important considerations in the health of your Bird of Paradise and will play an important role in keeping its foliage strong and healthy. Do not try to water your plant on a set schedule; instead, check its soil’s moisture level several times a week.
Poke a finger into your plant’s soil to feel for moisture. If the soil is dry 1-2″ down, it is time to water. Also, make sure to water your plant until liquid seeps from the bottom of the container. Ideally, about 20% of the water you poured into the pot should run through the bottom of the container.
Additionally, make sure that your Bird of Paradise container has unblocked drainage holes. Proper drainage helps reduce overwatering while also introducing oxygen into the soil, both of which are central to root health.
Splits in your plant’s leaves can also be prevented by ensuring that your Bird of Paradise receives adequate light – at least 5 hours of bright light every day – and humidity of 60% to 70%. These conditions will support leaf growth, encouraging the dermal tissue to grow thick and healthy. While this won’t prevent splits from high wind or rough treatment, it will protect the plant from premature splits and excessive fragility of the leaf tissue.
Lastly, always treat your plant gently, even if it is large and hardy. Since a fair amount of plant damage results from accidental mishandling, taking your time while repotting and relocating your plant will help keep it looking its best.
When it comes to preventing leaf splits, it is wise to remember the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Keeping your Bird of Paradise healthy is the necessary first step to preventing all forms of leaf damage and helping your plant achieve its full potential for growth and beauty.