by Chris Winslow
If I could only add one plant to my south Austin landscape a year,
my choice at the moment would be pride of Barbados. This member
of the pea family (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is one of the showiest
of the landscape perennials in central Texas.
Native to the West Indies, it is also known as dwarf poinciana. In
the tropics it grows into a large shrub or small tree.
If you plant one around Buda, Kyle or Austin, winter cold snaps
will freeze them back, and generally you can expect them to reach
a height and width of only 5 - 7 feet.
The showy flower is what they’re all about. The flower clusters are
orangey-red with yellow edges, approximately 8 to 10 inches across.
Each cluster has crinkled petals 2 to 3 inches across. In addition
the flowers produce bright red stamens that extend beyond each
The main requirement for ‘prides’ is sun. Plant them in full to part
sun, and they will flourish. They aren’t too fussy about soil, and
will be equally happy whether it’s acid or alkaline soil.
Another important requirement is good drainage. They have shown
a great tolerance for drought-like conditions and are a great candi-
date for xeriscape gardening and water conservation.
Its fern-like leaves offer a nice background to its showy flowers.
As the flowers are pollinated, usually by butterflies, they produce
bean pods. By fall, the seed can be harvested for planting in the
When dried, the bean seed coat is very hard and needs nicking or
weathering to germinate easily. I usually collect the seed and give
them an acid bath before planting. With warm ground, the scarified
seed will begin to grow in 2 to 3 weeks.
Pride of Barbados is an herbaceous perennial in our climate. It breaks
dormancy in the spring, flowers mostly in the summer and fall, and
freezes back with the first cold spells in late fall and winter. You are
almost assured of a comeback in the spring with a layer of mulch
and occasional winter watering.
If you are familiar with this plant and would like to grow some
similar varieties, there are two more of these desert flowering
plants to consider.
The desert or Texas Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) grows
6 to 8 feet tall and has similar fern-like foliage with large yellow
flower clusters with large red stamens.
The Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is actually
a native of the Rio Grande Valley. This variety has golden, frag-
rant flowers borne on racemes 3 to 6 inches long.
Both grow under the same conditions and will add spectacular color
to your perennial landscape while keeping your water bill to a
If you would like to see a great specimen, just drive to the entry-
way of Leisurewoods, on FM 1626. There’s a beautiful example
on the right side of the entryway. This plant has been returning
every spring for as long as I can remember.
Happy Gardening Everyone!