Pride of Barbados Shines

For obvious reasons, folks aren’t traveling nearly as much this summer as normal, but I’m still being asked to identify this sub-tropical beauty. It’s common along the Gulf Coast and inland as far as Central Texas and even up to the I-20 corridor.

Its individual flowers look delicate, but this is one tough plant!

It’s known as Pride of Barbados, Mexican bird of paradise, red bird of paradise, dwarf poinciana, and, to botanists, Caesalpinia pulcherrima.

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If you go far enough south it’s an evergreen shrub. In Zone 9 it’s a deciduous shrub, while in Zone 8 it may die to the ground in the winter and come back like a perennial. In colder Zone 7 it needs to be treated as an annual flower that is replanted each spring.

The city of Allen has used Pride of Barbados and other xeric plants in its medians of Bethany Road for several summers. To say that they’re dazzling falls fall short of the truth! (Photo from a couple of Septembers ago.)

In most places you’ll want to allow Pride of Barbados enough room to grow to 6 or 8 feet tall and wide. It needs sun, and it will even tolerate reflected heat off masonry walls. It’s spiny, so give it good social distancing, and plant it where it will have perfect drainage. But, of course, it will grow and bloom best when it’s given an ongoing supply of moisture and nitrogen.

Tiger swallowtails were swarming around Pride of Barbados the day I visited the River Walk in San Antonio.

Butterflies will also find their paradise in this plant. I was on the River Walk in San Antonio on afternoon when I came upon a planning jutting out at water’s edge. Tiger Swallowtails had found it, and they were dancing with glee. I stood there taking photo after photo. Like the butterflies, I just couldn’t get enough.

One of my Facebook friends posted this beautiful image of a Monarch caterpillar on a Pride of Barbados – looking for a milkweed plant, no doubt.
A somewhat hardier species, Caesalpinia gillesii, is known as yellow bird of paradise.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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