Sunday, June 11, 2006
By: David Rodriguez
Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae). It is referred to by other names including Barbados Flowerfence, Peacock Flower, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Dwarf Flamboyan, Caesalpinia, and Dwarf Poinciana. The species name pulcherrima literally means “very pretty” and this plant definitely lives up to the name. The blooms of Pride of Barbados are incredible with terminal flower clusters showing an orange-red with a tinge of gold on the edges. Each flower is composed of five showy petals with very prominent six inch long red stamens. This makes the Pride of Barbados one of the most attractive heat loving plants for San Antonio!
Pride of Barbados is an evergreen shrub or small tree in frost free climates, a deciduous shrub in zone 9, and a returning perennial in zone 8. In the tropics it gets 15-20′ tall and its ungainly, wide spreading branches can cover about the same width. The cultivation of Pride of Barbados in San Antonio is usually a semi-dwarfed hardy perennial shrub to a typical size of 5-8′ tall and growing that large even after freezing to the ground the previous winter. The stem, branches and petioles are armed with sharp spines and the leaves are fernlike and twice compound, with many small, oval leaflets. Pride of Barbados flower lives up to its name with incredibly showy blossoms of orange and red. The flowers are bowl shaped, 2-3″ across, with five crinkled, unequal red and orange petals, and ten prominent bright red stamens that extend way beyond the corolla. The flowers are borne in terminal clusters 8-10″ tall throughout most of the year in tropical climates and in late summer and fall where frosts occur. There also are forms with yellow and forms with dark red flowers. The fruits, typical legumes, are flat, 3-4″ long, and when ripe they split open noisily to expose the little brown beans.
Pride of Barbados is believed to be native to the West Indies and tropical America. It is widely cultivated and has escaped cultivation and become established in tropical regions throughout the world, including South Florida. The selection of Pride of Barbados that we desire here in San Antonio is a smaller dwarf compact selection named Dwarf Poinciana, Pride of Barbados. Local collaboration of regional propagation sources will be increasing adequate numbers of available plant material in the next two years. Once suitable numbers become available, the Pride of Barbados selection of the Dwarf Poinciana plant will be officially release in the spring of 2008 as a Texas SuperStar plant. It obviously meets all the criteria of a Texas SuperStar Plant.
Pride of Barbados is very easy to grow in alkaline to acidic, well-drained soils. This is a fast growing, but short lived plant. It is moderately tolerant of salty conditions. Pride of Barbados flowers benefit from pruning, and can be shaped to tree form or shrubby bush form. These plants prefer full sun to partial shade. Pride of Barbados flowers bloom best in full sun. Also, Pride of Barbados is considered drought tolerant once established.
Within the USDA Zones of 8 – 11, Pride of Barbados dies to the ground following frost or freezing temperatures, but in zone 8B, at least, it comes back reliable, albeit late, in middle spring. Don’t give up on it! Pride of Barbados has survived temperatures as low as 18 F. It can be grown as an annual in colder climates. Even under frost free conditions, Pride of Barbados may lose its leaves when temperatures drop into the 40’s.
Pride of Barbados is easy to start from seeds. Germination will be speeded up if the seeds are nicked with a file before planting. Under good growing conditions, Pride of Barbados will self sow and may even become weedy.
The striking orange red flowers are an attention grabber and butterflies love them! Use Pride of Barbados as a specimen or in a mixed shrub border. It has an open, spreading habit and the branches sometimes get too long for their own good and break off. Still, a row of Pride of Barbados makes a showy, fine-textured screen or informal hedge. You can cut Pride of Barbados to the ground in late winter or early spring to get a bushier, more compact shrub.
There are some 70 species of Caesalpinia in tropical regions worldwide. They were formerly placed in the genus Poinciana, but that genus name is no longer used. We all can’t grow the tropical, Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), considered to be the most beautiful tree in the world, but for gardeners in zones 8 and 9, the selection of Pride of Barbados(a.k.a. Dwarf Poinciana) is a close second and for sure a number one future Texas SuperStar winner here for San Antonio. Check it out!!!
Remember, Learn and Have Fun!
David Rodriguez is an Extension Horticulturist representing Texas Cooperative Extension with the Texas A&M University System. For any landscape or gardening information, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners AHotline@ at (210) 467-6575, email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our County Extension website at http:bexar-tx.tamu.edu