The Dwarf and the Giant- A Tale of Confusion, One Impostor and Two Poincianas

Royal poinciana- Delonix regia
One of the most spectacular trees in the world is a Royal Poinciana ( Delonix regia) at full bloom. It would be hard to beat the grandeur and spectacle of a 75 foot diameter tree emblazoned with a mantle of brilliant red-orange flowers. The tree is one of the most iconic summer season trademarks of Miami. Many flowering tree experts still rank this as one of the top 10 flowering trees in the world, and it grows beautifully with minimal care here. Hailing from Madagascar, the tree may well be more common here than in its home country, due to deforestation and development. There are 3 or 4 yellow varieties of a Royal Poinciana, and numerous tones of orange, red, crimson, and even a pumpkin-colored flower type. The yellow-flowered version of Delonix regia are a far cry from the smaller flowers of the "other" poinciana, the ill-named "Yellow Poinciana (Peltophorum pterocarpum, et.al) 

Yellow Royal Poinciana- Delonix regia
Yellow Poinciana-Peltophorum dubium, et.al

If you have the space to grow it, the Royal Poinciana is an anchor tree in a landscape. Yet with all its accolades, and like other large trees, it has some flaws. The tree gets quite large, has shallow roots that spread a long distance from the trunks, and the trees shed leaves and twigs all year long.

With these traits in mind, don't discount planting the tree on your property if you have room, just deal with and understand the drawbacks. Don't plant the tree near a pool, house, pavement or driveway. Give the tree a 20 or 30 feet radius of clear space around the trunk for future growth. Understand the tree's habit of going almost dormant in winter, to make ready for flowering in the warmer months. Remember that the tree sets 2- foot long seed pods. You can grow other plants under a Royal Poinciana, but plant species that don't mind getting a slow rain of small leaflets on them. Many of the running ferns like Wart fern, Macho ferns and Fishtail fern seem to enjoy the "aerial mulch" that descends from the sky. Royal Poincianas don't need or want a lot of irrigation, so park the tree on a well-drained area without sprinkler heads.

Dwarf Poinciana-Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Dwarf Poinciana-Caesalpinia pulcherrima

One of the mis-named plants in landscape horticulture is the Dwarf Poinciana, ( Caesalpinia pulcherrima) a fairly distant relative of the Royal Poinciana. It is not a dwarf version of a Royal Poinciana. The two trees are in the same Legume family, but are fairly distant relatives. It is a small tree, usually less than 15 feet high, from the Caribbean, and with a thorny trunk. Sometimes called a Bird of Paradise Tree ( equally confusing), the trees come in different color forms, from the usual red-orange to a brilliant yellow, to a rose/brick-red color. These are great trees for small properties, and are very easy-care types, needing a lot of sunlight and well-drained soil, but not much else. The trees don't shed twigs, have invasive roots , drop big seed pods, and the trees flower most of the year.

These trees should be much more common than they are, yet for some reason they are not often seen in urban landscapes. Perhaps the reason is that young seedlings are rather gangly, and don't "canopy" for several years. Perhaps the thorns deter buyers, but they are hardly as risky as some cactus species.

My suggestion is to try one or both of the trees, depending on your property's size. For smaller properties, the Dwarf Poinciana is a brilliant focal point in the landscape, with cheery flowers almost all year. Larger properties and many urban landscape areas can show off a Royal Poinciana in its full regalia. Once again we have a range of options for a flowering tree, once again we have a society of experienced and dedicated people to support flowering trees, and the climate in which to grow either of them to perfection. The Tropical Flowering Tree Society is the national leader in such trees, and is based here in Miami, possibly the world leader in flowering tree diversity.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens             

1 comment:

  1. Bought new yellow dwarf and the leaves are all turning yellow. Can anyone tell me what the problem is?