Exploring the Beauty of Pride of Barbados

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pride of Barbados

Pride of Barbados, scientifically known as Caesalpinia pulcherrima, is a vibrant member of the pea family (Fabaceae). With an array of common names like Barbados Flowerfence, Peacock Flower, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Dwarf Flamboyan, Caesalpinia, and Dwarf Poinciana, this plant truly lives up to its name. Boasting stunning orange-red blooms with golden edges, this heat-loving marvel is a sight to behold.

A Blossom Like No Other

The Pride of Barbados is a versatile plant, ranging from an evergreen shrub or small tree in frost-free climates to a deciduous shrub in zone 9. In tropical regions, it reaches an impressive height of 15 to 20 feet, with wide-spreading branches that match its width. However, in San Antonio, the cultivation of this plant usually results in a semi-dwarfed hardy perennial shrub, reaching a typical size of 5 to 8 feet. Astonishingly, even after freezing to the ground during winter, it regrows vigorously.

The stems, branches, and petioles of the Pride of Barbados are adorned with sharp spines, while the leaves are fernlike and twice compound, consisting of numerous small oval leaflets. The flowers, which give the plant its name, are bowl-shaped, around 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and exhibit five crinkled, unequal petals in shades of red and orange. The ten prominent red stamens extend well beyond the corolla, adding an extra touch of elegance. These striking flowers are arranged in terminal clusters, reaching heights of 8 to 10 inches, and bloom throughout most of the year in tropical climates. In areas affected by frost, the flowering occurs in late summer and fall.

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Aside from the classic orange and red coloration, there are also varieties with yellow and dark red flowers. The fruits of the Pride of Barbados are typical legumes, flat and approximately 3 to 4 inches long. When ripe, they noisily split open to reveal small brown beans.

A Globetrotter with Stunning Appeal

Believed to be native to the West Indies and tropical America, the Pride of Barbados has since been widely cultivated and has escaped cultivation, successfully establishing itself in tropical regions worldwide, including South Florida. Efforts are underway to increase regional propagation sources in order to make more plant material readily available. In fact, a smaller dwarf compact selection of the Pride of Barbados, aptly named Dwarf Poinciana, is expected to be released as a Texas SuperStar plant in the spring of 2008.

Thriving with Ease

Growing the Pride of Barbados in alkaline to acidic, well-drained soils is a breeze. Although it is fast-growing, this plant does have a relatively short lifespan. It exhibits moderate tolerance to salty conditions and benefits from occasional pruning. It can be shaped into a tree form or maintained in shrubby bush form. Full sun is preferred, as this is where the flowers truly shine. Once established, the Pride of Barbados is considered drought-tolerant, making it a hardy and resilient addition to any landscape.

A Survivor Against the Odds

In USDA Zones 8 to 11, the Pride of Barbados dies to the ground following frost or freezing temperatures. However, in Zone 8B, it reliably returns in the middle of spring, often later than expected. It has proven its resilience by surviving temperatures as low as 18°F (-8°C). In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual. Even in frost-free conditions, the plant may lose its leaves when temperatures drop into the 40s°F (around 5°C). Starting the Pride of Barbados from seeds is a straightforward process, and germination can be accelerated by nicking the seeds with a file before planting. Under favorable conditions, it may even self-sow and become somewhat weedy.

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Embrace the Beauty

The attention-grabbing orange-red flowers of the Pride of Barbados are not only a visual delight but also a magnet for butterflies. Whether used as a specimen plant or as part of a mixed shrub border, this plant’s open and spreading habit adds a touch of finesse to any landscape. It can even serve as a showy screen or informal hedge, forming an attractive row. Pruning the plant to the ground in late winter or early spring encourages a more compact and bushier growth.

Unlocking the Potential

With approximately 70 species of Caesalpinia found in tropical regions worldwide, the Pride of Barbados, also known as Dwarf Poinciana, stands out as an exceptional choice for gardeners in zones 8 and 9. This stunning plant, on the verge of being recognized as a Texas SuperStar winner, is a testament to its beauty and adaptability. Take a closer look and witness the magical allure of the Pride of Barbados!

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 Hotline at (210) 467-6575, email questions to [email protected], or visit our County Extension website at Ames Farm Center.