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Desert Diary
Plants/Red Bird of Paradise


The northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert has long been home to the naturalized Yellow Bird of Paradise. This shrub has yellow flowers with bright red stamens that, extending far beyond the petals, add that dash of color that turns the flowers from pretty to eye-catching.

In recent years, another member of the same genus, the Red Bird of Paradise, has been widely introduced as an ornamental shrub, and in parts of the Sonoran Desert, appears to be naturalized in a few places. The Chihuahuan Desert, however, seems to be just a bit too cold to expect naturalization, for the plant, a native of the West Indies, is frost sensitive. This sensitivity to the cold is the greatest drawback to the use of the Red Bird of Paradise as an ornamental in our region. We can expect leaf-drop with the first good frost and, usually, freezing to the ground. In a cold winter, some proportion of the plants succumb. The increasing popularity is due entirely to the spectacular, almost fluorescent, deep red and orange of the flowers. Magnificent!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Red Bird of Paradise flowers

A flower cluster of the Red Bird of Paradise. Photograph by A.H. Harris.