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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2017


I love our native plants and concentrate on their use in the landscape. However, using tropical plants for annual or perennial color is useful and appropriate as well. The national flower of Barbados is a great example. It’s a wonderful flowering plant for north Texas and beyond. Common names for this interesting plant include Pride of Barbados, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Dwarf Poinciana and Flower Fence. It is still sold under two different botanical names oddly enough - Poinciana pulcherrima and Caesalpinia pulcherrima. It is native to the West Indies and tropical America.

It has beautiful foliage as well as flowers. The branches are a little prickly and the leaves are large and doubly compound about one foot long and six inches wide with many small leaflets. The texture of the foliage is lacy, delicate and quite pleasant. Untrimmed the plant can grow to a height of 10 to 15 feet in one season but usually stays smaller than that. The flowers are spectacular and long lasting. They are very showy yellow and red, lasting all growing season. Fruits are dark brown to black pods at maturity that often appear on the plant while it is still flowering.

It needs full sun and well-drained soil, like most color plants. The fertility level is not critical but it responds especially well to the organic program. In zone 8 or warmer it functions as a perennial but for most of Texas, it is best used as used as an annual. The parent plant, the dramatic tropical tree Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), is not nearly as hardy.

Pride of Barbados can be used in the landscape as a border plant, in the perennial garden, in annual color beds and it also works well in containers. It’s an excellent plant for attracting butterflies and other pollinators so it can even help with the vegetable garden production.

This colorful plant is easy to grow and will be a perennial or permanent plant in the southern half of the state but will sometimes freeze completely in the northern portion. It needs normal bed preparation and moderate water and fertilizer. It behaves itself quite well.

The hardy and naturalized Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gillesii) is a close kin but more woody and tree-like. It will take more cold weather return each spring dependable in the southern half of the state. Pride of Barbabos will be easier to find in the nurseries and you should definitely give it a try.

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