Saturday, July 30, 2016
A Favorite for July: Caesalpinia pulcherrima
This is unequivocally a hot climate plant. It is frost sensitive and is likely to be cut down by freezing temperatures, though it has a good reputation for coming right back from the roots in mild winter gardens. But beyond that, both its growth and bloom seem to be triggered by high temperatures and plenty of sunlight.
My young plant went into the ground in June of last year (an unusually mild June!) from a 2.5 qt pot. It grew a little, then suffered frost burn during winter and took months to begin growing again. Sometime during this last June it began an impressive growth spurt. At present it is upwards of three, perhaps four, feet tall and equally wide, with a healthy showing of flowers. I am watering it occasionally, and of course it is still a young specimen needing a little extra moisture. It is not quite as drought-tolerant as some natives, but it certainly is an excellent low-water-use plant. And it blooms in July, which few native plants do!
Curiously, considering how successful it is in the low desert, it seems to have originated in the West Indies. Precisely where is apparently open to debate since it has been in cultivation time out of mind, growing throughout tropical regions; but it is uniquely associated with Barbados.
It has quite a variety of common names. In the southeastern US I find it listed as Pride of Barbados, but here in Arizona it often goes by the name of Red Bird of Paradise. Despite the resultant potential for confusion with Strelitzia reginae, I rather like the Bird of Paradise cognomen as the flowers are nearly always airborne, fluttering on their long stems as the breezes move through. They are, in fact, a good source of movement in the garden, as well as brilliant color.
Danger Garden. There were other plants I would have liked to include, especially Salvia farinacea and my newish white lantana, both of which have proven very reliable for bloom during this particularly dry summer. But I only managed to take pictures of the Caesalpinia!
Weather Diary: Partly cloudy; High: 112 F (44 C); Low: 81 F (27 C); Humidity: 15%-70%