Attention Grabbing Royal Poinciana Tree
by Tara A. Spears
While most of the jungle foliage is dusty and drooped because it is the tail-end of the dry season, the pops of vivid red-orange blossoms of the Poinciana tree can be seen from a distance. The Royal Poinciana tree (species name: Delonix regia,) is native to Madagascar and is an attractive ornamental tree that is widely cultivated around the world in temperate climates. The most striking characteristics of this tree are its brightly colored flowers that range from vivid red to orange or even yellow and its long seed pods. The leaves of the Royal Poinciana are very similar to those of the Blue Jacaranda (although they are not in the same family) and if the trees are young and not in bloom they can be hard to tell apart. Like the Jacaranda, the Royal Poinciana makes for a good shade tree because of the fact that it tends to grow very tall and with a broad crown. In the Riviera Nayarit area the highway south of Chacala-including Guayabitos area- bisects a grove of Poinciana trees that are magnificent in early summer.
Have Space, Add showstopper: If you have a large yard, the Poinciana is a wonderful shade tree with its unique feathery leaves. The Poinciana is perfect for our subtropical coastal area: it is drought and salt tolerant. A rapid grower, averaging five feet (one and a half meters) a year until attaining the mature height of 40 feet (12.2 meters) tall and 60 feet (18.2 meters) wide, so you need to plant it in a location that allows for growth. Be sure to plant a young Poinciana at least 15 feet (5 meters) away from sidewalks or other structures as the mature tree’s roots can crack concrete surfaces. As with most flowering plants, a full sun location is best.
The Royal Poinciana tree is a showy ornamental tree that boasts lavish clusters of red and orange flowers in spring and summer, an umbrella-like canopy, and feathery, fern-like leaves. The Poinciana tree has established itself in tropical cities throughout the world, and is particularly abundant in the Caribbean, where it is known simply as the flamboyant tree. In fact, according to the Floridata.com website, in the Caribbean Islands, Poinciana flower seed pods are used for fuel and are called “woman’s tongue,” due to the persistent rattling noise they make in the wind.
Although in the wild the Poinciana tree fends for itself in the dry season, if you are adding one to your landscape there are some steps to follow for long-term, optimal growth. Begin with a proper planting: dig the hole at least twice the width and depth of the tree ball, adding enriched soil to refill the hole. Take care to keep the crown of the tree at the same soil level- if you bury it deeper (covering more of the tree trunk) you’re likely to choke the tree. Once established, Poinciana is drought tolerant and rarely needs watering but cultivated trees do best with monthly irrigation during the growing season. For newly planted trees, water weekly for the first three to four months until the tree shows new growth.
Wild versus Cultivated tree:
The left photo shows Poinciana growing wild along a highway; the right photo a cultivated Poinciana in a yard. Notice how full and lush the tree appears with a little care. The different appearance is obtained through pruning. Prune your Royal Poinciana tree during its first three years to encourage strong branches. Remove all suckers–stems that sprout from the side of the tree–as well as limbs that are less than 8 to 12 feet from the ground. Remove branches that are dead, dying, broken or crossed, and prune to open up the center of the tree in order to increase sunlight and air circulation. Cut back growing tips to limit height and width, if desired.
No matter if you let the Poinciana tree grow au natural or add a little maintenance, it is a gorgeous addition to a tropical landscape.