Bird of paradise grows 3- to 5-foot-tall clumping evergreen perennial with bright orange flowers. Giant bird of paradise grows 20 to 30 feet tall with a white flower. Both types have the characteristic flower that looks like the head and beak of a tropical bird. Bird of paradise grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11, while white bird of paradise grows in USDA zones 9b through 11.
False Bird of Paradise
So similar it's often called false bird of paradise, heliconia (Heliconia spp.) is a striking alternative, or complement to a bird of paradise. Heliconia is a clumping evergreen perennial that grows between 2 and 15 feet tall forming clumps 3 to 6 feet wide. The bright red, yellow or orange flowers bloom in spring and summer against the dense, dark green, 36-inch-long leaves. Heliconia works well in part shade or part sun areas in the garden.
A Towering Traveler's Palm
Traveler's palm (Ravenala madagascariensis), which grows in USDA zones 10 through 11, looks strikingly similar to a large bird of paradise. Both the bird of paradise and the travelers palm belong to the family Strelitziaceae, which helps explain the striking similarities. The travelers palm grows 30 to 50 feet tall with a treelike structure, though it is technically an evergreen perennial. This tropical works well in place of the giant bird of paradise.
Lush Banana Plant
The dramatic, large leaves of a banana plant (Musa spp.) look similar to those of a large bird of paradise. You can use these two interchangeably to provide shade, lush foliage and a tropical edge to the garden. Bananas, which grow in USDA zones 9b through 11, get 10 to 30 feet tall depending on the variety. Banana plants grow in clumps 10 to 15 feet wide and have leaves that grow 36 inches long or more. Banana grows equally well in part shade, part sun and full sun.
Striking Canna Lily
Canna lily (Canna spp.) is a striking alternative to the smaller bird of paradise with the benefit of being more cold tolerant. This tropical-looking foliage plant grows 1 1/2 to 8 feet tall in clumps. The broad, green leaves create a subtle backdrop for the striking colorful flowers. The flowers lack the pronounced beak-like appearance of the bird of paradise, but the foliage looks similar. Canna lily grows in USDA zones 7 through 10. Winter frosts kills the foliage to the ground, but new growth shoots up the following spring. Canna lily does best in full sun.