After our prolonged chilly and cloudy winter of 2009-10, late spring has been thankfully heralded by the fantastic orange-red flowering canopies of the flamboyant trees (Delonix regia), aka royal poincianas. This large tropical tree from Madagascar was, for me, a most welcome shout of color in our drab green canopies. The royal poinciana is claimed to be among the most beautiful trees in the world and was named in honor of the first French governor of St. Kitts, Monsieur de Poincy.
This large-branched, broadly spreading tree is a semi-deciduous tree, and some trees defoliate more than others during the winter. The brilliant display of red-orange blooms fires up from late May through July for about a 53-day maximum flowering period, according to Lee County horticulture educator Stephen Brown.
Individual flowers are up to 4 inches across with five extended spatulate (spoon-shaped) petals per flower; one is marked with lighter white and yellow stripes. There are also five shorter, reddish bracts. Common flower shades range from deep scarlet to brick orange. However, there is supposedly a rare white flowering variety and a yellow-flowered form, var. flavid. See this tree on the west side of Goodlette-Frank Road between Pine Ridge and Vanderbilt Beach roads, or view a picture of a yellow flowering royal poinciana here:
There is also a sherbet orange flower; see four smaller trees along U.S. 41 across from the Covenant Presbyterian Church property at the 6900 block of Old Trail Boulevard. Trees will flower in about five to seven years; others may take 12 years to show off their beauty.
Poinciana flowers give rise to giant bean-pod fruit. These pods look like the old-fashioned razor strops seen in the barber shop, 18 inches long and 2 inches wide. They hang on the tree throughout the winter, and will fall on the ground in spring. Falling woody pods may be a litter nuisance, one of the issues with this tree in the landscape.
The royal poinciana is cold-sensitive. Certain references report that they can grow in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b, while others say Zone 10. I had several calls about ambrosia beetles tunneling into stems of younger poincianas in late April. Younger trees tend to suffer more from cold, and then the bark beetles/ambrosia beetles will move in and cause branch dieback on stressed trees with impaired sap flow.
Fine, soft, delicate leaflets give dappled shade during the remainder of the growing season. This makes it a favorite shade tree in large, open areas. The foliage is “bipinnately compound,” which means there are two sets of leaflets per leaf, which is divided into several hundred, half-inch-long sub-leaflets. So, one entire leaf measures 8 to 26 inches long and has a ferny appearance. A single leaf may have 1,000 leaflets.
The royal poinciana is drought-resistant, once established, and fast growing. They will be broader than tall, reaching to 40 feet high and 60 feet wide. Give poincianas plenty of room, about 10 feet away from sidewalks and driveways to avoid damaging paving and suffering litter from fallen branches and pods. Trees have reached 30 feet tall in 6 or 7 years, and have begun to bloom. Some older trees have trunks that are 50 inches in diameter.
Another consideration is that the limbs are susceptible to wind damage. They are soft-wooded and can take a beating from hurricanes. To develop a stronger, durable tree, Ed Gilman of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, recommends thinning major limbs before they become half the diameter of the main trunk.
This tree is not invasive; it is spread by planting, not by wind or wildlife. There are no significant pests or diseases of major concern, although there have been some recent (2006) night-feeding caterpillar infestations that caused complete defoliation. See:
Using a resource
In 1937, volunteers started royal poinciana festivals in West Palm Beach and Miami; see:
They sold seedlings, crowned a Poinciana Princess and had a contest to recognize the prettiest poinciana in town. I’m thinking we should find the best poincianas in Collier County and maybe do a mini-version of the Miami festival. Some trees worth seeing:
■ Woodshire Lane at Bald Eagle Drive, with a half-mile of about 29 medium-sized royal poincianas along the eastern loop of Forest Lakes Community off of Pine Ridge
■ The famous, larger royal poincianas on Fifth Avenue South and Sixth Street South
■ Pine Ridge at Mahogany Drive and West Avenue
■ Pompei Lane area
Wisconsin Drive and Cooper Driver neighborhoods. If you have some “must-see” RPs let me know. Maybe we can have a mini-RP festival in 2011. (Thanks to Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS-Okeechopee County Extension, who contributed greatly to this article.) .
Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., is the commercial landscape horticulture extension agent and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. E-mail email@example.com ;phone, 353-4244 x203.