Brown Spots on Bird of Paradise (Causes and Solutions)


The striking orchid Bird of Paradise can liven up any room with its thick, long leaves and vibrant colors.  But sometimes the plant develops brown spots along with the leaves or stem.  These spots are unsightly and unhealthy.  There are many different causes of these brown spots, but also many solutions.

Fungal disease is the most common reason for brown spots on bird of paradise leaves or stems. In addition, pest infestation, over-fertilization, edema can cause brown spots on leaves. Most brown spots on Bird of Paradise are mild and will go away with quick treatment.  However, advanced brown spots are a sign of decay and may mean your plant cannot be saved.  

This article will help you identify brown spots, what may be causing them, and potential solutions.  I will also offer some easy tips to prevent brown spots from forming at all.

How to Identify Brown Spots on Bird of Paradise

Brown Spots on Bird of Paradise stems and leaves

The brown spots on Bird of Paradise can be subtle or noticeable depending on the cause and the stage of rot.  

The size and color of these spots can let you know whether or not the plant is salvageable.  Here are some tips to identify what’s causing the brown spots and how to fix them.

Brown Spots on Leaves

Brown spots on the leaves of Bird of Paradise develop either on the edge of the leaf or at the center.  Sometimes rot can spread from the fringe to the inside of the leaf. The brown spot will be irregularly shaped.  

The dark brown color can stand out against the green of the rest of the leaf.  There might be a yellowish outline around the brown spot.  On the edges of leaves, the brown spot will make the leaf dry and fragile.  The edge can easily split or crumble off.

These spots are usually easy to notice.  They are on the most visible part of the plant and stick out against the verdant green of the rest of the leaf.  You’ll have a much easier time treating these spots since you can identify them before the rot advances.

Brown Spots on Stems

It’s harder to identify brown spots on the stem of Bird of Paradise.  The browning will start at the base of the stem near the soil, and work its way upward. 

Typically, by the time spots appear at the base of the stem, the roots are already infected.  These spots are more dangerous because you may not notice them until they rot has advanced and reached more visible parts of the plant.

Some spots consist of small, very dark dots forming clusters around the stem.  Sometimes long pieces of the stem are a faded brown.  

Untreated stems will decay.  Advanced rot can cause dark brown spots on the faded pieces of stem and white spots along with green pieces of stem.

Because stem spots do not develop on the most decorative part of the plant, they can go unnoticed until they develop on the rest of the plant.  

In extreme cases, brown spots that started at the base of the stem and have worked their way up to the leaves indicate that the plant is in a severe state of decay and cannot be saved.  

This is why, when watering my Bird of Paradise, I always do a quick inspection of the base.  Noticing spots in early stages make them easier to treat and increases my chances of saving the plant.

What Causes Brown Spots?  And How Can I Treat Them?

These spots can have subtle differences, which help me determine the cause.  Each one has unique solutions.  Many of these solutions are simple.

Root Rot

Root rot is caused by a fungal pathogen that targets the roots of a plant.  Healthy roots are firm and lightly colored, but infected roots will be dark, brown, and mushy. 

Because it’s usually not easy to notice the base of my plant from far off, I usually do a quick inspection of my Bird of Paradise before watering it.

Overwatering is the most common cause of Root Rot.  Fungi thrive in moist environments.  Rather than pouring water directly into the pot, mist the plant with water in a spray bottle.  This can also help remove dust from the glossy leaves, letting your plant shine.

  • If the plant isn’t too far decayed, repot it in a pot with better drainage and fresh soil.  The plant will heal.
  • Left untreated, Root Rot can cause spores to grow alongside the plant.  This is a clear sign that the infection has reached an advanced stage.

Gray Mold

Gray mold is another fungal disease favored by high humidity.  Infected plants develop brown spots along with flowers and leaves.  Leaves can wilt or split and fall off the plant.

If you notice any signs of Gray mold, remove the dying plant tissue from the rest of the plant.  Keep the soil free from any fallen debris to maintain proper air circulation.

Overexposure to Heat or Sun

Overexposure to heat and light causes leaves to curl or form crispy brown edges.  Bird of Paradise loves the sun and needs at least a few hours of sunlight a day.

I keep my Bird of Paradise in the sunniest room in my house.  That being said, I keep track of how many hours of sunlight my plant gets in Summer.  Bird of Paradise is at the highest risk of overexposure in July and August.

Longer exposure to indirect sunlight is ideal, but a few hours of direct sunlight won’t hurt the plant.  So, stick to using indirect sunlight for longer periods of time, rather than bursts of direct sunlight.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer Burn is the result of over-fertilizing a plant.  Or, fertilizing wet foliage.  Excess use of pesticides or herbicides has the same effect.  

Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides contain salt and chemicals that can burn the leaf tissues if applied incorrectly.

The edges of the leaves will turn brown or yellow.  The roots will go limp and turn brown, or in severe cases black.  Fertilizer burn can even delay the growth of Bird of Paradise, which usually grows quite rapidly.

I use an organic fertilizer once every three months during the growing season (spring and summer).  (Source: University of Florida)

Mild fertilizer burn is treatable.  The trick is to lower salt levels in the soil back to the proper ratio.  However, in extreme cases, Bird of Paradise will not be recoverable, or the weakened plant will attract pests.

Edema

Edema, which is derived from the Latin word for “to swell,” is a physiological disorder common to all houseplants.  Edema occurs when the plant takes in more water than it can transpire.

Early symptoms include swelling and blisters, but brown and yellow spots form as the disorder progresses.  Edema occurs most often in winter or early spring.

Since Edema is not pathogenic, it is easy to treat.  If you think your Bird of Paradise has Edema, increase the room’s temperature or the plant’s daily sunlight time.  Also carefully monitor watering and double-check your pot and soil’s drainage.

Nutrient Deficiency

Because Bird of Paradise grows so fast, it needs a lot of nutrients to stay healthy.  Bird of Paradise will brown if it is not getting the nutrients it needs. Discolored leaves and slow growth rate are signs of nutrient deficiency.

The solution is simple, just fertilize your orchid once a month during the growing season, and possibly once every three months in winter. 

Use an organic, liquid fertilizer.  Also, it will never hurt to check the pH levels in your soil, as it could impact the efficacy of the fertilizer. Your bird of paradise plant lover slightly acidic to alkaline soil, pH ranging from 5.5-7.5

Insect Infestation

Insect infestation is rare in Bird of Paradise, but it can happen. If you see little brown spots on the steam or underside of a leaf, it is likely the insect scale.

Scale are very small insects that typically don’t grow past ½”.  They are light brown with smaller dark brown spots on the body.  From a distance, the scale might look fuzzy.

You can remove the Scale with insecticide or rubbing alcohol.  Systemic insecticides that circulate the entire plant starting from the roots are the most effective.  If there is a severe infestation, cut off the brownest leaves.

Prevent Brown Spots from Even Developing

Even in a blizzard, a Bird of Paradise can bring the tropics to you and keep the winter blues away.  Here are five easy tips to keep Bird of Paradise vibrant and healthy.

Don’t Overwater

This seems obvious from earlier, but not overwatering the plant is the most effective way to prevent brown spots from forming.  Never water the plant so much that the roots get wet.  

One great way to protect the plant is to use an organic potting mix with moisture control.  You only need to water Bird of Paradise once every one or two weeks.

Bird of Paradise thrives in subtropical climates.  These climates are typically very humid with short but intense summer storms.  Soil should remain moist but not soggy.  

I wait for the top 2-3 inches of soil to dry before watering my Bird of Paradise again.  But underwatering is also dangerous. While the top layer soil needs to dry, the soil below should always be moist and never go dry.

Keep the Cold Away

Bird of Paradise is a subtropical plant, much like bananas.  Although the plant is hardy, it cannot handle temperatures below 24℉ (-4℃).  

The ideal temperatures range for Bird of Paradise are between 55-65℉ (13-18℃) at night and 65-70℉ (18-21℃) during the day.  

Some experts think that isn’t warm enough.  Instead, they recommend 65-80℉ (21-27℃).  No need to mess around with the thermostat, as the sun will provide extra warmth during the day.

Trim and Prune

Maintenance for Bird of Paradise is easy.  Every now and then, I use a pair of shears to trim the leaves.  Instead of making dramatic cuts, I gently chop the leaf following its natural shape.  

I then go down to the base and cut off older, less attractive stalks.  This gives the plant more room and energy to grow.  

However, you don’t have to regularly trim and prune.  Bird of Paradise is a low-maintenance plant day-to-day, and over-trimming can cause leaves to split.

Know When (And Where) to Start

The best times to plant Bird of Paradise are either spring or autumn.  Do not plant Bird of Paradise in the summer.  

The plant is at the biggest risk for overexposure in the summer, and the intense sun can damage young plants. The best spot in the house for Bird of Paradise is within three feet of a south-facing window.  

Overall, Keep Everything on Schedule

Bird of Paradise requires moderation.  So, I made a simple schedule for taking care of one.

  • Water Bird of Paradise once every 1-2 weeks.  One week after watering, check the soil at the top of the pot.  If it feels dry, the plant is ready for the next watering.  If the soil is still damp, wait a few days, or another week at the latest, before watering the plant again.
  • In the spring and summer, fertilize Bird of Paradise once a month with a liquid fertilizer.  These are the growth months for the plant, so fertilization isn’t necessary for the fall and winter.
  • Repot Bird of Paradise once every 18 to 24 months.  If the plant is healthy, you can sometimes wait up to 28 months before repotting.  In the wild, Bird of Paradise has a lifespan between 50 and 150 years!  The plant gets comfortable in the soil, so don’t make repotting a habit.

To make the schedule easy to remember, just think Weekly, monthly, yearly.  Water weekly, fertilize monthly, repot yearly.

Is It Worth It?  Can I Handle Taking Care of a Bird of Paradise?

Bird of Paradise is a gorgeous addition to any home.  It is also a beginner-friendly houseplant.  However, it requires balanced care.  

Finding the perfect combination of soil, water, and the sunlight is essential to keeping the plant upright and healthy.  

The thick, banana-shaped leaves are majestic even if the flowers don’t fully bloom.  They can even grow to be 5-6 ft tall.  

Taller Bird of Paradise can stand from its pot on the ground near the window, while the miniature plants are the perfect centerpieces. Bird of Paradise is the ultimate natural statement piece to tie any room together.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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