797 Delonix regiaCommon Names: royal poinciana, flamboyant tree, flame tree, peacock flower Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
Royal poinciana (so named because it used to be in the genus, Poinciana) is a flamboyant tree in flower - some say the world's most colorful tree. For several weeks in spring and summer it is covered with exuberant clusters of flame-red flowers, 4-5 in (1.2-12.7 cm) across. Even up close the individual flowers are striking: they have four spoon shaped spreading scarlet or orange-red petals about 3 in (7.6 cm) long, and one upright slightly larger petal (the standard) which is marked with yellow and white. Royal poinciana gets 30-40 ft (9.1-12.2 m) tall, but its elegant wide-spreading umbrella-like canopy can be wider than its height. Royal poinciana is deciduous in climates that have a marked dry season, but in Florida and other areas where the winter is not that much dryer than the summer, it is a semi-evergreen tree. Even the leaves are elegant: they are lacy and fernlike, twice-pinnate, and 12-20 in (30.5-50.8 cm) long with 20-40 pairs of primary leaflets (pinnae), each divided into 10-20 pairs of secondary leaflets (pinules). The dark brown pods are flat and woody, up to 24 in (61 cm) long and 2 in (5.1 cm) wide. A naturally occurring variety (var. flavida) has golden-yellow flowers.
Royal poinciana, Delonix regia, is native to Madagascar. It is widely cultivated and may be seen adorning avenues, parks and estates in tropical cities throughout the world. A casual visitor might think the Caribbean Islanders invented this tree they call simply "flamboyant." Poinciana frequently escapes cultivation and establishes in frost-free climates, including extreme southern Florida. Who's complaining?
CultureRoyal poinciana is very fast growing, about 5 ft (1.5 m) per year until maturity, and tolerant of a wide range of well drained soils from acidic to alkaline and from loamy to gravelly. It's best to provide protection from strong winds. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Royal poinciana is drought tolerant, but does best with regular water in the growing season and very little water in its dormant season. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Royal poinciana should not be exposed to temperatures below about 45ºF (7.2ºC). Propagation: Propagate royal poinciana from semi-ripe tip cuttings taken in summer. Best results come with bottom heat. Seedlings vary in flower characteristics and may take 10 or more years to flower.
Royal poinciana is a spectacular shade tree in tropical climates. As a free standing specimen tree, it has no peers. Picture this beauty framed by a cluster of coconut palms! Royal poinciana tolerates salty conditions and can be grown near the coast, but not in openly exposed beach conditions. Royal poinciana tolerates hard pruning and can be kept at a small size, and even grown in the greenhouse.
Yes, there are down sides. Royal poinciana has shallow, wide-spreading roots that will not allow underplanting and the roots can be a threat to building foundations and sidewalks. The tree sheds large woody pods and brittle branches that get broken off in the wind. Seedlings will come up all around the tree.
Royal poinciana puts on its riotous show over a long season in spring and summer. Even if it never bloomed, it would still be one of the most beautiful trees in the world with its graceful live oak-like form, sculptured Ficus-like surface roots, and lacy fernlike foliage. Virtually everyone falls in love with this tree at first sight. It is so loved in Miami that they have an annual festival to celebrate its flowering.
In the Caribbean Islands the pods are used for fuel and called "woman's tongue" because of the rattling noise they make when the wind blows them (a couple other species share this nickname for the same reason). The tree was named for an 18th century governor of the French West Indies, M. de Poinci.
Steve Christman 9/13/00; updated 2/19/04