UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ifas.ufl.edu

 May 30, 2007

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Feature Article - for release the week of  June 3, 2007

 Poinciana on Highwayman painting by Livingston "Castro" Roberts Royal Poinciana Trees are often featured in "Highwayman" Art. This untitled painting was created by the late Fort Pierce-based artist Livingston "Castro" Roberts.

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent 

Pretty Poincianas

Many would like nothing better than to lie in a hammock under the shade of a tropical tree and enjoy a good book or a favorite beverage.  In southern Florida, one of the tropical trees that might provide a suitable canopy is the Royal Poinciana.  Recently the spreading branches have erupted with fern-like foliage and begun to show their brilliant orange-red flowers.

This large tropical tree is appearing with more frequency in our area.  The Royal Poinciana is claimed to be among the most beautiful trees in the world.   It was named in honor of after the first French Governor of St. Kitts, Monsieur de Poincy.  

Other commonly used names for this beauty are the Flamboyant or Flame tree, and one look at its brilliant summer appearance ought to convince anyone where this name comes from. Botanists call it Delonix regia, which refers to the long clawed petals of this “royal” tree.

This many-branched, broadly spreading deciduous tree is best suited to frost-free Florida Yards.  Its brilliant display of red-orange blooms fires up from May through July.  

Individual flowers up to four inches across have five petals in each flower; one is marked with lighter white and yellow stripes. Flower shades range from deep scarlet to brick orange - there are even yellow-flowered forms (var. flavida).  The flowers grow from the ends of each branch, and one tree can bloom for more than a month.

Poinciana flowers give rise to large bean-pod fruit.  These pods look like the old fashioned razor strops seen in the barber shop, 18 inches long and two inches wide.  They hang on the tree throughout the winter, and will fall on the ground in spring.  Falling woody pods may be a litter nuisance, one of the problems with this tree in the landscape.

  Individual flowers have five petals; one is marked with white or yellow stripes. There is also variation in color shading between individual Poinciana Trees. Photo: Doug Caldwell, UF/IFAS

Poinciana seed pods Long pods identify the Poinciana  as a member of the Bean or Legume family.  Each pod may have several dozen seed inside these woody fruit.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Poinciana seed The 1/2 inch long bean- like seed are hard to grow unless they are treated. Try clipping off a small part of  the rounded end (bottom). Photo: USDA Woody-Plant Seed Manual Poinciana Leaf One leaf from this tree may be 1 1/2 foot long and 1/2 foot wide. Photo: Virginia Tech

 Seeds can be used to grow more Poincianas.  They are an inch long and are gray brown in color.  Because the seed covering is very hard, it takes a long time for the seed to get started.  A method that I have used is to carefully look at the seed to locate the embryo end - look for a small spot at the tip - the seed scar.  Using a pair of pliers, carefully break off the smallest possible piece of the OPPOSITE end. This helps the seeds to absorb moisture and start germination.


Poincianas in Florida Yards

Fine, soft, delicate leaflets give dappled shade during the remainder of the growing season. This makes it a favorite shade tree in large, open areas.  The foliage is “bipinnately compound,” which means the leaf is divided twice into several hundred one-half-inch long sub-leaflets. So, one leaf  measures 18 by 6 inches in size but has a ferny appearance.

UF Horticulture professor Dr. Bijan Dehgan reports that the fallen leaves may produce a sort of natural turf herbicide.  In my experience, Poincianas can shade turf enough to reduce its growth under trees.

The Royal Poinciana is fast growing and can get quite large. They will be broader than tall, reaching to 40 feet high and 60 feet wide. Give it plenty of room, about 10 feet from away from sidewalks and driveways to avoid damaging paving and avoid the litter from fallen branches and pods.  Locally, Poinciana trees have reached 30 feet tall in 6 or 7 years, and have begun to bloom. 

Despite global warming, do consider cold hardiness of the Royal Poinciana.  References that say they can grow in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b, while others say Zone 10.  My advice is try a Poinciana if you have the room, and are willing to do the cleanup.

Another downside of the Poinciana is that the limbs are susceptible to breakage. They are soft wooded and can take a beating from hurricanes.  Early pruning encourages branches and will compensate for the weak wood.  Prune major limbs to no larger than half the diameter of the trunk. A Poinciana in my yard lost a number of side branches in 2004 and 2005, but was blooming again last year.  This year it is back in full color.

If you need to prune, best time to do it would be just before the spring regrowth starts.  In most areas of South Florida, this would be in late March to April. 

Poinciana Blown apart by 2004 storms

This Poinciana took the brunt of two hurricanes in 2004.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

 Re-grown Poincianc   Two views of the same tree in 2007 show it has replaced many of the limbs. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Recovered Poinciana A 2009 view of this Poinciana tree: lots of early summer color for this South Florida Yard. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

This tree is not aggressively invasive – it is generally spread by planting, not by wind or wildlife; UF/IFAS recommends that they should be managed to prevent escape.  There are no significant pests or diseases of major concern, although some recent caterpillar infestations  have been reported in Southwest Florida.  And I have seen trunk girdling - from nylon string weed whackers (and from tree ties that have not been removed in time).

Poinciana caterpillar  

The Royal Poinciana caterpillar (Melipotis acontioides) has defoliated some trees in the Naples area.   Photo: Doug Caldwell, UF/IFAS.

 Strangled Poinciana

This young Poinciana was staked to keep it upright, but the wraps were never removed.  It is being strangled by rope that should have been removed after 6 months after planting.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

    Where’s Our Prettiest Poinciana

Poinciana US postage StampA few years ago, volunteers started Royal Poinciana festivals in West Palm Beach and Miami.  They sold seedlings, crowned Poinciana Princesses and had a contest to recognize the prettiest Poinciana in town.  (They also helped get a Royal Poinciana on a US Postage stamp in 1999.)  

If you have seen an especially attractive Poinciana growing in our area, please let me know where they are growing.  I’ll offer a list for those that are interested in seeing these flamboyant tropical trees. 

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee Extension webpage, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Poincianas, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  GO GATORS!

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida, Millie Ferrer, Interim Dean Last update: 06/18/2010.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert


Brown, Stephen. Delonix regia.  Ft. Myers: UF/IFAS Lee County Extension Service, undated. http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/GardenPubsAZ/DelonixRegiaRoyalPoinciana.pdf 

ibid. Yellow Poinciana.  Ft. Myers: UF/IFAS Lee County Extension Service, undated.  http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/GardenPubsAZ/FactSheet/CaesalpiniaPulcherrima.pdf

Caldwell, Doug. Royal Poinciana Caterpillar.   Naples: UF/IFAS Collier Co. Extension Service. 10/2006.  http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/CommHort/CommHortPubs/RPmoth.pdf  

ibid. "Royal Poincianas deserve their own party in Naples." Naples Daily News, 6/17/2010. http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2010/jun/17/doug-caldwell-royal-poincianas-deserve-their-own-p/?partner=RSS 

Culbert, Daniel F.  “A Flamboyant Tree for Father”. Vero Beach: Press Journal, 6/16/02. http://indian.ifas.ufl.edu/News/2002%20news/poinciananews.htm

Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G.  Caesalpinia pulcherrima: Dwarf Poinciana  (ENH-266).  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 10/2003.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST107

ibid. Delonix regia: Royal Poinciana (ENH-387). Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 4/2007.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST228

ibid. Peltophorum pterocarpum: Yellow Poinciana (ENH-593). Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 3/2007.   http://enhtest.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/Pages/pelpte/pelpte.html and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST434 


 Poincianas are pictured on many postage stamps from around the globe.