Royal poinciana tree care

Royal Poinciana Tree (page 145)

The flame tree, also known as royal poinciana or flamboyant, is a member of the bean family (Leguminosae) and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful tropical trees in the world. This aptly named tree produces striking flame-like scarlet and yellow flowers in spring before the leaves emerge. As the trees mature, they develop broad umbrella-shaped crowns, and are often planted for their shade-giving properties. The delicate, fern-like leaves are composed of small individual leaflets, which fold up at the onset of dusk. This tree produces brown, woody seed pods that reach lengths of up to 60 cm; they turn reddish-brown to almost black when ripe. It is easy to care for a Royal Poinciana tree (delonix regia) if it is grown in proper conditions. When the Royal Poinciana tree is grown in bright and full-sun grounds, it does not require much care.

Image source URL: http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/226/226F09_16print.html

Today you can find the royal Poinciana trees in the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, where the people of the islands call the trees Flamboyant trees, as their leaves and flowers are bright red and orange during the summers. Their flowers are usually blooming from May to September along the hillside of the islands. These trees take about ten years to fully mature. The children of the islands play a game called the Flamboyant Flower Game, where the object of the game is to pull your opponents anther off using the stamen from a mature green pod.

The royal Poinciana trees can date back to the 17th century, as they were named after the French Governor Phillipe de Longviliers de Poincy of St. Kitts Island. It is thought that the Governor was the one responsible for introducing the Americas to the royal Poinciana trees.

In the novel the Princesses Athenais and Amethyste stumbled over the roots of a Royal Poinciana tree, as they fled the Sans-Souci palace with their mother and the African pages and Soliman, as they escaped from the mob of ex-slaves who were ransacking the palace after Christophe’s suicide. The fact that Christophe had such a tree planted in the gardens of the Sans-Souci palace again illustrated how he was attemtping to give his Haiti a regal air.

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Poincianas present problems

The regal splendor of the royal poinciana tree (Delonix regina) bursts into bloom in April and May and fills our skies and then our streets with its claw-shaped blossoms. The deciduous leaves are bi-pinnate with 25 small leaflets that are further divided into another 25 leaflets. They give the tree a slightly drooping grace before they shed in the spring. The tree is native to Madagascar, but has been exported all over the world. Frequently, it is voted one of the top five flowering trees.

Each tree species has an inherent life span. Oaks can live hundreds of years. Royal poinciana trees have notoriously short life spans. Sadly, that means that trees that you loved as a child will most likely be gone before you are. If the life span of the poinciana is 40 years, at 30 years the tree is in decline and more susceptible to diseases, pathogens and, most importantly, termites. The older tree is less flexible in a storm and more vulnerable to wind damage.

An ideal urban forest will have trees of differing ages so that old trees that are more prone to damage can be removed. Young trees are inherently stronger. That is why the Key West tree ordinance, for example, requires new plantings when any old tree is removed.

Poinciana trees frequently have co-dominant trunks. The areas at their division develop bark inclusions, which weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to breakage. If the tree is pruned to develop a strong central leader when young, this problem might be avoided. According to the University of Florida’s statistics, the pruned tree will have a 26 percent better chance of surviving strong winds.

When branches break or are improperly or even properly cut off, the wound is more susceptible than native species to invasion by termites, fungus and bacteria. Since many large branches are blown off in a storm, many old poinciana trees develop cavities that allow a termite invasion. An otherwise healthy-looking tree that is full of termites is a threat to surrounding property.

Another problem occurs with the tree’s root systems. Poinciana trees develop buttress roots that extend out over the surface of the ground. The islands have shallow soil with a water table at about 18 inches that encourages the root system to grow horizontally. The shallow root systems are easily damaged by something as simple as a car rolling over them. As their canopy is often 40 feet tall and 60 feet wide, ideally, the poinciana needs an empty space 30 feet by 30 feet for its roots to be happy. Sidewalks, curbs, buildings, parking lots, driveways and pools impair root growth. The fecund poinciana will self seed with great gusto and grow in a crack between two buildings where its root structure never has a chance.

If the tree is damaged by weed-eaters or mowers and the cambium layer that transports nutrients from the roots to the tree trunk and branches is injured, the strength of the tree is weakened.

The area underneath a poinciana tree is allopathic. That is, nothing will grow there. Its red-orange blooms during season create a carpet underneath to make up for the bare ground, but most of the year there is just dirt.

The older the poinciana tree, the more flamboyant the intensity of its flowers. The foot-long seedpods are more prolific as well. The tree knows its time is short and puts out a most extravagant display as its final curtain call.

Key West Garden Club Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist at the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton
Features. Her book, “Plants of Paradise,” can be found on Amazon.com.

The Royal Poinciana Tree

flamboyants image by Unclesam from Fotolia.com

Behold one of the world’s most magnificent flowering trees–whether called royal poinciana, flamboyant or the flame tree, to catch a glimpse of this tree in full bloom in late spring or early summer is an unforgettable sight. Today, it is grown worldwide across tropical regions, a symbol of exotic beauty in large parks or lining spacious avenues often alongside palms and tropical fig trees.

Taxonomy

Royal poinciana is a member of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. Based on the shape of its flower, it is further grouped in a subfamily named Caesalpinioideae. The scientific name for this tree is Delonix regia.

Origin

Royal poinciana is native only to the island of Madagascar, and is endangered in the wild.

Ornamental Features

feuilles de flamboyant contre plongée image by Patrick M. from Fotolia.com

The semi-green royal poinciana grows 30 to 50 feet tall and 30 to 40 feet wide with an umbrella-like canopy and low swooping branches. The tree loses its foliage in the winter depending upon the degree of soil dryness, and in spring, the feathery, fern-like leaves emerge. Its smooth, gray bark makes the trunk look like an elephant’s leg. Leaves have an overall oval shape, but are compound with two ranks of branching lined with tiny leaflets. In late spring to early summer, branch tips don large clusters of orange to scarlet-red flowers. (A naturally occurring variety of the tree produces golden yellow flowers.) The blossom of the poinciana has five claw-like petals; one upper petal bears speckles of white or red and is called the “standard.” Enormous brown seed pods develop after flowering, and about one year later splits open to release the horizontally arranged seeds.

Growing Requirements

Grow royal poinciana in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and warmer where winter frosts do not occur. Plant them in a fertile soil that is moist and well-draining, preferably in a location sheltered from strong winds. At least eight hours of sunlight daily is needed for healthy plants and good flowering. During the growing season, water freely and often to encourage leaf and flower growth. In winter, do not irrigate to encourage widespread leaf drop and a more abundant flowering later that spring.

Cultural Insight

flamboyant en fleur image by margouillat photo from Fotolia.com

There is no reason to over-prune a royal poinciana because its natural form is to have low and drooping branches. The roots of royal poinciana are surface-dwelling and strong, making underplanting difficult and not a beneficial practice. The tree should be planted no closer than 30 feet from concrete or asphalt roads, sidewalks or building foundations according to “Tropical Flowering Trees.” While fast-growing, seedling trees don’t usually bloom before they are about 5 years old. This tree is also photo-sensitive at night, so flowering is diminished or absent on trees illuminated by street lights, or occurs only on the sides of the canopy that is away from the light source.

Royal poincianas flower best in climates with a pronounced dry winter season. Thus, in tropical climates with year-round moisture and high humidity, flowering is sporadic in summer at best. Poincianas do not prosper in regions with Mediterranean climates.

Flame Tree (Delonix regia)

The Flame Tree is also called Royal Poinciana, fire tree or flamboyant tree. It is a tropical tree species from the legume family which produces large, fiery red or golden flowers that blossom from spring through summer.

The seed pods can grow 30 – 60 cm (12 to 24 inch) long and will look out of proportion on a bonsai tree if you let them develop. The leaves are pinnately twofold and remind of fern leaves. The bark is greyish-brown, smooth on young trees and becomes rough with age. The tree grows fast, can become 10 meters (33ft) high and it takes on a natural umbrella shape which should also be aimed at when the flame tree is styled as a bonsai. In tropical climate the tree is more or less evergreen while in cooler subtropical regions it will be deciduous. The flame tree does not tolerate frost and needs temperatures between 50° F / 10° C and 68° F / 20° C in winter.

If you need help identifying your tree, try our Bonsai tree identification guide.

Specific Bonsai care guidelines for the Flame Tree Bonsai

Position: The flame tree likes a sunny wind-protected place outside during the growing season as long as the night temperatures stay above 50° F / 10° C. Drastic temperature drops are not tolerated. From autumn to spring the tree must be placed in the house or a heated conservatory at temperatures between 50° F / 10° C and 68° F / 20° C. The cooler and darker the place the longer the flame tree will be dormant without leaves.

Watering: In summer the flame tree needs a lot of water. Water when the soil gets dry but take good care not to overwater the flame tree. It tolerates short drought periods. In winter, when the leaves have fallen, the flame tree needs much less water. The flame tree tolerates a pH value between 4.5 and 7.5, so avoid very calcareous water.

Fertilizing: Apply solid organic fertilizer every four weeks or use a liquid fertilizer every week during the growing season. Use a fertilizer with a balanced N-P-K ratio to promote healthy growth as well as opulent flowering.



Pruning and wiring: Flame trees tolerate hard pruning which should be executed in early spring, if necessary. In summer they must be trimmed consistently in order to control the strong growth and to develop the umbrella-shaped crown with a nice ramification. In winter cut off excess shoots which have emerged in unwanted positions. Wire branches and shoots, if necessary, when they are still young. Take care to remove the wire in time so that it won’t bite into the bark. Older branches can be shaped with guy wires.

Repotting: Repot the flame tree every or every other year and use a well-draining soil mix. The tree tolerates normal root-pruning, you can remove one third of the root mass. Take care to cut off dead roots and the strong roots circling at the bottom of the pot. As the flame tree prefers a slightly acidic soil, you can add some Kanuma to your soil mix.



Propagation: Flame trees are propagated from seed. Let the dry seeds swell in lukewarm water for a few days before you put them in cultivation soil. Keep them at a steady temperature of 68° F / 20° C. It will take about three weeks until the seeds germinate.



Pests and diseases: Scale can bother the flame tree, especially in winter. In this case try to scratch them off manually and use a specific pesticide. Shoot borers or caterpillars can also occur. Overwatering or a too cold position can cause root rot. Then repot the tree, cut off damaged roots and plant it in fresh, well draining soil. Try to improve the conditions for your tree

For more detailed information on these techniques, try our Bonsai tree care section. Photo source: Wikipedia and Artofbonsai.

Flame Tree (Delonix Bonsai)

Flame Tree (Delonix regia).

There is a “Flame Tree” as they are also called in a park in our neighborhood, and when taking a walk with my family earlier this year I decided to pick up a seed pod and bring it home.

Here is the mother tree at the park in April of this year with seed pods:

They are an amazing tropical flowering tree and are actually from the bean family (fabaceae). USDA zone 10 is ideal for them. They have great movement and branching naturally. Hence my interest in applying bonsai to these trees.

The leaves are like a fern….similar to a mimosa, or Brazilian Rain Tree. Each leaf is made of many leaflets and they grow large spreading canopies.

When the trees flower in summer, they explode in fire orange/red blooms everywhere, hence the name Flame Tree.

In bloom:

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

These will be the start of some wonderful bonsai.

The pods are pretty large on average and can be as long as 2 feet.

Here is the pod:

That’s a 9 inch Branch Cutter. This pod was about 18 inches long.

Inside those slots you see below were seeds. There are many, many seeds! Perfect!

Here are what the seeds look like:

You will read different ways of propagating the seeds. Some advise to soak them for 24 hours, others will also advise to scarify them. You can even snip off the tip of the seed opposite the side attached to the pod (embryo side of seed).

The method required will depend on your climate. I’m in zone 10 it’s hot and humid constantly here. No need for the extra work.

For me, I just soak them for an hour or so, I do not scarify or snip the seeds.

Just simply push them in the soil, keep it moist, and in about a week or so they break ground.

I planted them in a propagation tray, to later be moved to pots once big enough:

If not contained in a small pot they will grow a few feet their first year. These grow fast so it will be interesting to see how they respond to bonsai techniques. It will be a battle to keep them small!

Here is a little glimpse into the future. This is one is about 1 month old:

Royal Poinciana

In a few months we’ll catch back up with these little guys and see what they have become!

Happy Saturday! It’s a great day to start new bonsai trees!

Video of The Day

HAVE you ever wanted to grow your own bonsai? Well, in the coming weeks, several articles on various species of bonsai will be published and these will include how to germinate various seeds effectively as well as successfully planting them.

ALSO READ: Invasives and Natives: Trees with tales to tell

First up, we have the Delonix regia – the ‘flame tree’ – which is a species of flowering plant in the bean family Fabaceae.

“It is noted for its fern-like leaves and flamboyant display of flowers. In many tropical parts of the world, it is grown as an ornamental tree and in English it is given the name royal poinciana or flamboyant,” – Wikipedia.

Germination: Soak the seeds in boiling water for five minutes (on the stove), gradually add cold water until the water is no longer too hot and leave to stand overnight. Some of the seeds may be very ‘stubborn’ and should be left to continue soaking in the water until the membrane has fallen off.

More stubborn seeds, which have not started peeling at all, should be nicked with a sharp point and the process restarted – if this does not remove the membrane by the next day, discard the seeds completely.

Once the seeds have lost their outer membrane, fill a small planting pot or starter tray with soil – sterile seed starting soil is best – and make a small indentation (two to three centimeters should be sufficient) at the surface of the soil where the seed is placed and cover lightly with soil.

It is not necessary to moisten the soil after planting.

A mixture of vermiculite/perlite, peat moss (Canadian peat moss is best) and compost may be used as an alternative to soil which will allow for better drainage as well as slight moisture retention.

A Delonix regia seed has successfully germinated after seven days.

The pots you use to plant the seeds in should allow for proper drainage to avoid the seeds from rotting and/or drowning.

Move the planting pot/s into a warm location which is also sunny until germination has been completed and two sets of leaves are clearly visible – they should not receive direct sunlight.

The Delonix regia is a somewhat fragile bonsai, so it is advised that you seek out a spot where no harm will come to it until the root system has thoroughly established itself.

Moisten the soil daily (if dry at the top level) until the roots have taken thoroughly and, once this has been achieved, only water the bonsai during dry periods.

Once two to four leaves have grown a decent size, remove the sapling from the pot and replant into a larger bonsai pot and place in an area which offers plenty sunlight.

Did you know: “In the Indian state of Kerala, royal poinciana is called ‘kaalvarippoo’ which means the flower of Calvary. There is a popular belief among Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala that, when Jesus was crucified, there was a small royal poinciana tree near his cross. It is believed that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed over the flowers of the tree and this is how the flowers of royal poinciana got a sharp red colour,” – Wikipedia.

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Royal Poinciana

Royal poinciana (Delonix regia) tree in full bloom, Miami. Photo by Scott Zona.

Summer in Florida means different things to everyone. While some think only of the stifling heat, other people see themselves relaxing in paradise, perhaps in a hammock swaying gently beneath a gorgeously blooming shade tree. For those in South Florida, royal poinciana (Delonix regia) is probably the tree they’re imagining.

Also called flamboyant or flame tree, royal poinciana provides dappled shade in summer, with wide, spreading branches and brilliantly-colored flowers. Many people consider this to be one of the most beautiful trees in the world.

Characteristics

Native to Madagascar, royal poinciana trees are known for their showy flowers. The botanical name is derived from the Greek words delos (meaning conspicuous) and onyx (meaning claw), referring to their appearance. With four spoon-shaped petals about 3 inches long, and one slightly larger petal (called the standard), they resemble orchids, and range in color from deep red to bright orange. Yellow-flowering cultivars also exist. These lovely flowers first appear in clusters between May and July, and can stay on the tree for a month or more.

A mature tree can resemble an umbrella, with a wider canopy than it is tall. The delicate, fern-like leaflets provide light shade and the perfect backdrop for the flowers to shine against. The bark is smooth and gray. Royal poinciana is deciduous, providing your landscape with cooling shade during the hottest parts of the year and warming sunshine in the winter. While it’s not sturdy in storms, judicious pruning can help prevent breakage, and the tree will often recover quickly after losing limbs.

Planting and Care

This tree prefers frost-free areas, generally USDA hardiness zones 9b–11. Royal poinciana will grow in a variety of soil conditions and once established, is highly tolerant of both drought and salt. There are no major pest or disease problems. For the best flowers, plant your tree in an area that receives full sun.

Many find that royal poinciana is best for larger landscapes. Your tree could reach a mature height of 40 feet—with a canopy 40 to 60 feet wide. And because it has large surface roots, be sure to plant your poinciana at least 10 feet from pavement, sidewalks, and buildings. Be aware that grass will grow poorly beneath your tree.

Royal poinciana does require a level of maintenance that makes it less desirable to some homeowners. While adored for the beautiful flowers, the large “bean-pod” fruits that follow can become a nuisance. These 2 inch by 18 inch fruits persist through winter and drop off in the spring, becoming annoying landscape litter for some gardeners.

Beyond picking up fallen pods, pruning is necessary to create a strong tree structure. Royal poinciana branches are susceptible to breakage, particularly in high winds. Prune your tree early to encourage the development of branches that are well-attached to the trunk. Prune any major limbs that are half the diameter of the trunk. The best time of year is right before the spring regrowth starts, usually late March into April. Additionally, you should train your tree so that the major limbs are all 8 to 12 feet from the ground. This clearance below the canopy allows you to enjoy the shade while still keeping the tree strong. And take care while doing yard work; like most trees, the lower trunk of your royal poinciana can be damaged by line trimmers.

Flower of the royal poinciana tree (Delonix regia).
©Gitta Hasing, University of Florida.

A newly planted royal poinciana will likely take five years to bloom, although there are reports of some trees taking twelve years or more. To avoid waiting for blooms, you can purchase a tree that’s already flowering. Sometimes only portions of the tree will produce flowers, but these events usually only occur once every five years or so. The rest of the time you should be able to enjoy your royal poinciana blooming during the summer in South Florida.

Royal poinciana truly is a gorgeous tropical tree. Even if there isn’t room in your own landscape, keep an eye out for this blooming beauty in South Florida.

UF/IFAS Sites

  • UF/IFAS Assessment: Delonix regia

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Delonix regia, Royal Poinciana

Royal poinciana trees

Q. On a trip to the Cayman Islands we were fascinated by the beautiful royal poinciana or flamboyant trees. How can I plant seeds for this tree? Will it grow in the Houston climate?

— G.C., Houston

A. Each year around this time, gardeners ask about royal poinciana, dwarf poinciana and bird of paradise bush, all members of the Caesalpinianceae family.

Like you, many see the royal poinciana on vacation and would love to grow it in their Houston gardens. It must have winter protection here. The other two draw questions since they are flowering in local gardens.

Royal poinciana, Delonix regia, is native to Madagascar. The beautiful tree is shaped like an umbrella, and the canopy is often as broad as the tree is tall. It has fernlike foliage and flashy displays of 4-inch orange-scarlet flowers from spring into summer.

The tree likes full sun, good drainage and regular watering, and is usually a fast grower to 30 or 40 feet — in warm-winter areas. While royal poinciana requires little care, it is not that cold-tolerant, usually listed as cold-hardy only as far north as Zone 10. Our growing area covers Zones 8b/9a, so you would need to provide winter protection.

To grow from seed:

Remove seed from the pod. Nick the hard seed coats and soak the seeds in hot water for 24 hours. The seed will swell.

Plant swollen seed about an inch deep in a 6-inch pot of moist, but well-draining potting mixture. Keep the pot in the shade outdoors. Don’t let the soil dry.

Germination may occur within two weeks. Transplant the poinciana to larger containers as needed.

The royal poinciana is related to Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly called dwarf poinciana, pride of Barbados and red bird of paradise. This, too, has ferny foliage and pyramid-shaped racemes.

The petals may be yellow or red with yellow margins, but the flowers age to all red. It matures quickly to 10-15 feet. C. pulcherrima is sometimes offered in local nurseries during the summer. It is usually root-hardy in Zone 9.

Another relative, C. gilliesii, is commonly known as the yellow bird of paradise bush, Mexican bird of paradise, even paradise poinciana.

It has a dark green, ferny foliage and terminal clusters of exotic yellow blooms with long red stamens. Mature height is 8 to 10 feet. This sun-loving, drought-tolerant, root-hardy plant has naturalized in some areas of Texas and is periodically available locally.

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