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Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Zingiberales > Family: Strelitziaceae > Genus: Strelitzia

Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana) Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana)
Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana)

Strelitzia nicolai at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, showing the blue petals, white sepals and the compound flowerheads. [photos H. Robertson, Iziko ©].


A large tree-like strelitzia, growing to 12 m tall.

Of the three tree-like strelitzias found in southern Africa, Strelitzia nicolai is distinguished by usually having blue, not white petals (thus distinguishing is from Strelitzia alba although very occasionally petals can be white in S. nicolai) and by having a compound flowerhead (one flowerhead arising from another; the other two species have a simple flowerhead). Note that it is the arrow-like structure of a Strelitzia flower that consists of two petals (with style and stamens running between) while the three large, erect, showy petal-like structures are actually sepals - these sepals are white in all three species of tree-like strelitzias. There is a third petal that is inconspicuous.  

The fruit is a 3-lobed, dehiscent woody capsule. The seed is black with an orange, woolly aril.

Origin of name

This species was named by von Regel and Körnicke (1858) after Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolajevich the elder, who was the third son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Alexandra Feodorovna. He was the royal sponsor of the Russian Horticultural Society of St. Petersburg (David Hollombe pers. comm.).

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in coastal dune and forest vegetation, as well as inland forests, along the east coast of southern Africa from just south of East London in the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal to southern Mozambique.

Ecological interactions

Strelitzia nicolai (Natal wild banana)

An Eastern olive sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea) taking nectar from a flower of Strelitzia nicolai on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa. [photo Colin Paterson-Jones ©]


Uses by humans

  • Seed capsules contain large black seeds with orange, oily arils. Seeds are ground into a flour, which is mixed with water and made into a fritter. The arils are pushed into the fritter and it is then baked over coals and then eaten. It is evidently a filling meal but not particularly tasty (van Wyk and Gericke 2000).

  • According to Palmer & Pitman (1972): "Zulus use the spathes as penis boxes". Somehow I doubt this is still practiced.

  • The leaves are used for lining damp corn pits.


  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Volume 1. A.A. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • von Regel EA, Körnicke F. 1858. Strelitzia nicolai Rgl. et Körn. Gartenflora 7: 265-267, pl. 235. (see in BHL)
  • van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.  

Text by Hamish Robertson

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