On Gardening: Pride of Barbados — your own key to the islands

July 11, 2016

The flowers are cupped with five crinkled orange and red petals and 10 red stamens.

The Pride of Barbados is one of the most beautiful tropical plants for the home landscape. As the name suggests, it is the national tree of Barbados the island paradise in the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles. It is such an incredible plant, it was also named a Texas Super Star Winner.

Now your first thought is that they grow citrus in Texas so no problem growing a plant like the Pride of Barbados. That would be true but Texas was also recognizing the plant as an outstanding annual for the home landscape, even in the frigid clime of the panhandle. So in Texas it is evergreen in zone 9, returning perennial in zone 8, and an annual in all other zones.

Let’s do a little homework first. The Pride of Barbados is known botanically as Caesalpinia pulcherrima and is in the pea family. It is native to the West Indies and has a host of common names, like Barbados Pride, Peacock Flower, Red Bird of Paradise, Barbados Flower Fence and the last one, Dwarf Poinciana, which to me tells the true story of its beauty.

In the Caribbean you will also find the Royal Poinciana also called Flamboyant tree, known botanically as Delonix regia. It is site that will give lasting memories. Thus the Pride of Barbados is so spectacular with fiery red/orange and yellow blooms it looks as though it is a dwarf version of the Royal Poinciana, a real compliment.

The official Pride of Barbados has incredibly showy blossoms of orange and red, there are however yellow versions and pink ones as well. The individual flowers are cupped-shaped, 2–3 inches across, with five crinkled, red and yellow/orange petals, and ten prominent bright red stamens.

In South Texas they were the hallmark shrub planting welcoming visitors to my subdivision. While I lived in Mission, Texas a frost never occurred. These shrubs reached slightly over 7-foot tall and were dazzling for months. In Savannah we are growing it successfully too but in a different way. Each winter ours are knocked to the ground by freezing temperatures but they rebound giving weeks of the riotous color.

In a marketing campaign like the Texas Superstar program there is great impetus on what might be considered drive-thru marketing. The green industry is primed to have the plants available for the promotion period. Once gardeners like you and I buy the plants and see how great they are we will want to purchase for years to come.

So outside of Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and California the rest of us may have to hunt for plants or seeds. Seeds are always easy to find, while mail order plants are a little tougher. Seeds are normally started indoors about six to 8 weeks before the last frost date. The seeds are very hard so a little scratching with sandpaper will allow for quicker and better water penetration and thus germination.

When your last frost has occurred you can grow outside in full sun as a showy thriller plant in a mixed container or plant in the landscape into very well drained soil. If you live in zone 8 and want it to be a returning perennial give any extra consideration to micro climates that might even offer a little more winter protection. In the more humid rainy Southeast consider planting on raised beds for that crucial winter drainage. Pay attention and you may be able to harvest dried seeds for planting in subsequent years.

The Pride of Barbados has fine textured foliage that is reminiscent of a mimosa and might cause you to think it is not tough in the summer sun. This is simply not the case and as I watched them perform day after day in high winds, coupled with triple-digit heat indices. Lantanas, castor bean and ornamental grasses all make wonderful companions.

In addition to the Pride of Barbados, there are two other species welcome in most gardens. Keep your eyes open for plants or seeds of the Desert Bird of Paradise bush, Caesalpinia gilliesii, with yellow flowers and long red stamens and the showy golden yellow flowered Mexican Bird of Paradise bush, Caesalpinia mexicana. Both are candidates to return from the mid-teens and can be grown as annuals. All of them bring in hummingbirds and wows from your visitors.



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