I get that question in my email all year long. But recently, I've received several with pictures that look like the one here.
When I get multiple messages asking about the same plant, it tells me the plant in question must be in bloom and is somewhat unusual. It also prompts me to cover it here, so we can have a quick reference in our archives.
As you can see, this unusual flowering plant can't help but catch your eye. With its vibrant yellow, orange and red blooms atop unusual foliage strikingly similar to mimosa leaves, the Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima l) has definitely caught the interest of many. It's also called a dwarf poinciana. But it should be noted that while the Pride of Barbados works fairly well in the Houston area, its parent plant, the Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) does not. That's important, because many people come back from vacations in South Florida or the Caribbean hoping they can plant the Royal Poinciana along the Texas Gulf Coast. But it won't work here because it can't handle our 40 degree winter temperatures.
In any case, I have some tips to keep the Pride of Barbados looking its best throughout the summer. First, though, remember that while it can work in Houston landscapes, these plants will "die-back" in the winter. In Central America and the West Indies, they're evergreens, but in our area they fall somewhere between a perennial and an annual. They almost always come back from winter damage, but they can be killed to the root if freezing temperatures stay below 30 degrees for too long. That means it is important to protect the root system (with mulch, at the least) on freezing nights.
The Pride of Barbados needs full sun to bloom correctly, and it prefers and well-drained soil. If your area stays wet for too long after heavy rains, the root system will probably die.
Any slow-release blooming plant food, such as Nelson's Color Star, will work fine. They are really good at attracting butterflies, and the seed pods are easy to propagate.
With the Pride of Barbados, you'll have something that will be the envy of the neighborhood, at least during the hot summer months, so good luck with it!
PHOTO: Michael via Flickr