The Pride–Of–Barbados has long been a favorite for hot tropical landscapes where it provides a fiesta of vibrant color throughout the year. Even botanists recognized this plant’s beauty as the word “pulcherrima” in the scientific name, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, means very pretty. This Caribbean native celebrates the warm summer season, hitting its stride in flowering during the toughest part of summer when most of our seasonal color plants are languishing in the dog–day sun. Some of the alternate common names, such as flame tree, peacock flower, and flowering fence hint at its showy nature.
Spectacular terminal racemes up to 20 in. long begin to appear in spring in south Texas and during summer in central and north Texas. Individual flowers open progressively from the base of the raceme to the tip with the longest pedicles on the lower flowers, giving the raceme a cone or pyramidal–shaped outline. Racemes last for an extended time as the individual florets sequentially open up the stem. Florets are 1½ to 2 in. wide with five showy red to orange, occasionally yellow, petals arranged like a shallow cup with bright red stamens extending 2 in. beyond the petals. Cool looking waxy lima bean-shaped 3 to 6 in. long pods follow the flowers, starting green, flushing red, and eventually turning shiny brown. One can either enjoy the fruit development or deadhead the spent flowers to hasten the next flush of blooms. As if the flowers were not showy enough on their own, nature has made them attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies which add movement and excitement to the summer spectacle.
Even when not in bloom, the foliage of Pride–Of–Barbados is interesting, offering soft textured very finely divided, broad, bipinnately compound leaves 8 to 15 in. long. The numerous fine textured, lush, dark green to blue–green leaflets contrast well with the coarse branching pattern of its shrubby growth habit and the intricate red, orange, and yellow flowers. Some of the select seed lines with strongly blue–green foliage are even more handsome than the species type.
Growth habits and uses vary by region of the state. Pride–Of–Barbados is sometimes planted as a barrier hedge as some of the older stems develop stiff prickles, hence its use in the tropics as a showy natural fence. Along the Gulf Coast and in south Texas, Pride–Of–Barbados can be used as a semi–evergreen hedge or limbed up as a small tree. A bit further north in El Paso, Austin, College Station, and Houston it may serve as a herbaceous perennial returning from the roots after mild winters. For the rest of the state it makes an outstanding annual summer accent, providing flowers during the hottest part of the year. Pride–Of–Barbados makes a great summer replacement for transition season plantings or can add spicy colors to mixed or single species patio or dooryard pots. Culture is easy as all one needs is a sunny spot with about any well drained soil. For nurserymen, the key to good growth is to start plants as soon as possible in a warm greenhouse as plants grow rapidly, but languish in cool temperatures. Also, avoid over–watering to reduce the potential for root rots.
Regardless of your location in the state, Pride–Of–Barbados will make your list of summer favorites as one of next summer’s Texas Superstar® promotions.
Published by Michael Arnold, 2007, in the TNLA Green Magazine 9(8):20 & 35.