Strelitzia nicolai

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Botanical Name
Strelitzia nicolai
Strelitziaceae - The strelitzia family.
stre-LITZ-ee-uh NIK-oh-ly
Common Name(s)
English: Natal wild banana
Afrikaans: Natal wildepiesang
IsiXhosa: Ikhamanga
IsiZulu: Igceba
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Medium
    Tree10m to 16m
    Shrub1m to 2m
    Perennial/ground cover40cm to 60cm
    Bulb40cm to 60cm
    Succulent40cm to 60cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Attractive fruits, berries or seeds Brightly coloured fruits or berries increase and extend the visual impact of the plant and are especially attractive to birds and other small wildlife.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Roots Invasive Do not plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Salt spray tolerant A plant with specific adaptations enabling it to grow in a saline environment.
  • Sand tolerant Plants adapted to survive in nutrient poor, very sandy soils.
  • Water Moderate These plants will need some extra watering compared to water-wise plants. Plant them together, in at least some shade and in a convenient proximity to the house so that grey water can be utilised during times of drought.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

Growth is moderate until the roots have become established, after which, under the right conditions, the trees grow very fast. Strelitzias have an aggressive root system: do not plant them too close to paving, pools, walls or buildings. They withstand salty coastal winds and are effective in creating a lush, tropical effect. Protect from frost if grown inland.

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crane-flower up to 50mm long

  • Spring to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • white
Growth Rate
  • Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Accent or Focal Point A plant used to attract the attention because of its colour or form.
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Foliage Plant Plants grown because their foliage is colorful or unique. Many of these plants have insignificant flowers.
  • Screen A tall hedge of suitable plants planted closely together and used as a windbreak, to block a bad view, to separate parts of the garden or as a backdrop.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • Suitable for seaside gardens Plants that will survive the hostile environment of harsh salty winds, dry sandy soil, irregular rainfall and heat found in seaside gardens.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
  • Windbreak Trees planted in a row to form protection from prevailing winds by breaking the force of the wind, thereby reducing wind damage.
Distribution and Habitat

Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal into Mozambique and towards Zimbabwe, coastally in dune vegetation and inland in evergreen forests.

Planting Suggestions

Choose a spot where the plant will have place to grow, bearing in mind that it can spread up to 4 meters across. Mulch thickly to retain water and protect the soil. Water regularly until the plant is established after which a moderate amount of water will suffice. Strelitzia nicolai will survive in a large container for several years.

The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees: Planting a tree

International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting

Tree People: Plant the right way

For those of you who have a clay problem try:

Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Medicinal Uses

The tough leaf stalks are dried and used to make a rope for building fish kraals and huts. The immature seeds are edible and tasty.

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what are the health benefits of strelitzia nicolai seed which is found in the natal wild banana

Hi Patricia

I have re-checked all my resources but have found no mention of the seeds, or any part of the plant, being used medicinally. As mentioned above, the immature seeds are edible, and according to Ben-Erik van Wyk and Nigel Gericke in their book People's Plants, and I quote: 'The seeds are ground into flour. The flour is mixed with water, patted into a cookie or fritter and the oily seed arils are embedded on both sides. It is then baked over coals to make a dense filling meal, although the taste is somewhat bland. (Ben Dekker, pers. comm.)'

The 'arils' are those fluffy bits attached to the seed, which are removed before grinding.

I have also wondered about whether there was a medicinal use, as I have had a few inquiries from China for the purchase of 300-500kg of Strelitzia seed!

I would like to plant a row of streliztia nicolai as a screen to hide an ugly building behind my property. I have about 5 meters across to cover. How far apart should I plant them and how far from the wall?

Thanks in advance,

Hi Nuno

My sources suggest a distance of anything from 1.2 m to 1.8 m apart. I deduct from this that if you live in a tropical, wet area or where water is not a problem, you could choose the larger distance as the plants would grow more aggressively. If you are in a drier or cooler area, you might use the narrower distance. Under the circumstances you probably want quick, dense growth. You should not need more than 5 plants.

I found no information for the planting distance from the wall. However the root systems of Strelitzias can get very bulky with age, which results in damage to structures. For myself, I would not plant closer than a meter away from the wall.

Hope this helps.

Kind regards

I have a strelitzia nicolai in my back garden. We planted it for the tropical effect and beauty of the tree. It's way over 3m tall now and blooms with the most beautiful white flowers. It's giving the whole effect we wanted from it when it was planted. The thing is I have been told that the root system is quite invasive and that it's going to eventually ruin our wall, the paving and the pool. I was advised to remove it asap. It is about 8m from the pool. Will it really ruin it? Is there anything else I can do to prevent it breaking anything? I guess I'm just looking for another solution other than removing it. Hope you can give me some good news. Thank you.

Hi Tracey

Thanks for your query - a common question and one that needs some clear guidelines.

I have had some experience with removing Strelitzias (both nicolai and reginea) and I also contacted a couple of growers and landscapers for their input as well.

A tree with an invasive root system sends large, strong roots out horizontally, often quite close to the ground surface and over long distances, where they thicken, raising paving, cracking walls, breaking underground pipes and damaging pools.

However, Strelitzias have a completely different root system which, although also invasive, can be less of a problem. Strelitzias do not send out thick long roots. In fact most of the root system is vertical into the ground and centered around the plant itself. The problem that arises is that as the plant ages, it bulks outwards, forming a very large and very strong clump. It is this that causes the problem. If the plant is close to a structure, this bulk will eventually broaden and push against anything in its way, causing damage, but only in the area of the plant.

If your strelitzia is within a meter or two of any structures, you may have a problem over time as the plant bulks outwards. It will definitely not endanger your pool or any other structures that are a reasonable distance (1.5 m or more) from the plant.

One has only to consider the huge number of Strelitzias that have been planted in densely built Marinas and resorts all along our coast. These could not have been used if they had the damage potential that was suggested to you.

I hope I have given you enough information so that you can assess your situation. With luck you will be able to keep your tree.

Kind regards

Hi Lorraine,

In your post above you mention the large root clump that develops, I have a problem with one of these and want to get it removed, it seems impossible to remove the root clump, is it possible? How would you go about removing it?


Hello Lindsay

I am going on the assumption that you are prepared to destroy the plant to remove it. I have had some experience where a few plants were removed from a garden which I subsequently took over, so I'll relate my experiences and the results of this before I suggest how I might go about removing this persistent species.

The plants removed were in both a rockery area as well as in deep, soft coastal sand. They were removed in some haste and root matter remained underground.

The plants in the rockery sent up replacement shoots within 6 months. This is understandable as the entire rockery area would have to have been disassembled to reach the roots. I am now considering poisoning these shoots as the owner does not want them re-establishing.

The plants that were in the sand have also begun sending up shoots - 18 months after the initial removal!

The plant consists of a bulky, fibrous mass with very thick, fleshy roots going deep down. These roots are fragile and break off with very little resistance. I have no idea how deep the roots of S. nicolai go, but the rule of thumb for S. reginea is 'the height of the plant is equivalent to the depth of the roots' and this I have seen to be a good measure.

I have not tried any of the following suggestions but here goes.

Suggestion 1:
For deep soft soil: Dig a moat all the way round the plant, about a meter away from the edge of the mass. Remove all the soil as you go to expose the entire mass and remove it. Keep going down gently exposing and following the roots to remove as much root material as possible. I imagine that this is only possible if the soil is reasonably sandy and easy to remove. You may have to water it well as you go down. The reason for the moat is to give you pace to maneuver and will probably be more than a meter deep.

Suggestion 2:
Cut the foliage and stems off and chip away at the top of the mass, make a few hollows and fill them with tree poison and paint the entire mass with the mixture, following the manufacturer's directions. You may need to re-apply this once or twice.

Suggestion 3:
Spray the entire plant with an aggressive poison that is carried into the roots and subsequently rots the roots. This would have to be done on a completely windless day with protective clothing and mask, followed by a shower. There would still be the chance of affecting other plants close-by and the process should probably be repeated after 10 days.

I am not an avid proponent of poisons but there are times....

The reason for these extreme measures is so that the plant does not have a chance of re-growing. I hope this is of some help.

Perhaps another reader has had experience with this and can give us more information.

Kind regards

gosh, they are persistent, thanks for your carefully thought out response, I am also against the use of poison. For option 1 do you think it will be possible to actually pull out the stump that way? I looked at it again andit's probably closer to 5 meters in diamater! I want this thing gone from my garden, it is so ugly

Hi Lindsey

Good heavens. That is horrendous. I agree - it's got to go. Poison is definitely not the answer here - the plant is way too big. Short of a bulldozer or a ditch digger, there is only one way: get a couple of stalwart helpers and dig it out. Your query has resulted in my writing a blog on the subject. Have a look here:

Depending on where you are you could hire a professional tree removing company to tackle this project but that could be costly, and they won't necessarily do a better job.

For your purposes I wouldn't bother to dig a trench all the way round something this big. Just pick a spot and trench about a third or half of the way - depending on how many diggers you have as they will need space to work. Dig down below the base of the plant and hack out around the edges as you go. It is vital that you keep a close eye on the job to ensure that it is properly done and the work space is kept clear. There is going to be a vast amount of vegetation to get rid of.

I have been told by one client that they cut all the foliage low down, piled up lots of old branches on top and burned the whole lot. After the second burn the plant died. But then you still have all the root matter to remove so I'm not sure that it's such a good idea. Also, if you are in a built up area it is illegal to burn garden refuse.

I wish you all the best with this venture. It is a huge task but I am confident that it can be done. I would be most grateful if you could send me a picture of the plant for my website to and perhaps a couple of the removal process if you decide to go ahead.

Kind regards

Thanks Lorraine, I will do, this is going to be a PROJECT I guess

It will be, but you may be pleasantly surprised once you get down to it. With a few strong arms the job can get done surprisingly quickly - and just think of the open space you will have to play around with when the monster has been vanquished!
All the best


I was wondering if anyone knows if the leaves can used like banana leaves to wrap around fish or vegetables when steaming or grilling?

Are there any toxins that may be emitted with the introduction of heat?


I'm looking for an answer to this same question if anyone can shed light on it.

Thanks in advance.

Hi Warren

Still no clarity on this question. A couple of (overseas) sites list all the Strelitzia family as poisonous to dogs but that does not help much. I'll keep looking and let you know if I come up with anything.

Kind regards

My dog has been chewing on nicolai branches for the last week since he came to live with me and he is ok, but i had no idea it might be poisonous. I would like to find out if it is just the small orange flowered variety that is poisonous - i have one of those too.

Hi Phil

I have found no further information on this subject other than the reply to the previous comment.

Kind regards

I have a giant strelizia with the blue and white boat flowers and am also wondering whether I can use the leaves for steaming or grilling.

We recently had one trunk of our group of Strelizia nicolai removed (it was about 20' tall). The tree removers left some moldy-looking, white pulp behind on the ground and our dog licked at it before I noticed it.

My first question is whether the pulp (presumably from the chain saw sawing through the trunk), the flowers, or any other part of these trees are toxic to dogs?

My second question is whether or not what I have actually is a strelitzia nicolai? When I looked it up online, I also saw a similar plant called the Traveler's Tree, and wondered which I actually have. I've attached a photo.


Hi Susan

My sincere apologies for not having replied to your queries sooner.

I have found no data relating to the toxicity of the sap or any other part of this plant - all the same, I hope your dog suffered no ill effects.

As to your second query, yes this is/was definitely Strelitzia nicolai.

Kind regards

Hi Lorraine, I have a long narrow area at the back of my house - about 1 and a half meters wide and about 5 meters long. Big glass windows from the lounge look into this area. I am desperate to plant 3 large strelitzia nicholi there as I love the tropical effect and the beautiful leaves. Is there any way I can chop off new clumps if it gets too big and retain the plant? Worried about the roots cracking the structure. Any other suggestions ???
Kind regards,

Hi Kim

First my sincere apologies for not having replied to your post.

As to your question, please read the following blog post and comments, and then decide whether you still want to try this out.

Kind regards

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