Tropical Flamboyance

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

In Southwest Florida, you know summer is here when the royal poincianas explode with color.  Their hues — from light yellow to dark orange to brilliant red — are reflective of the season itself: sultry, hot, and vibrant.

They are spectacular from a distance, a landscape artist’s dream, no doubt. But they’re equally impressive up close. Within each voluptuous cluster of blooms are flower buds, mature flowers, and brand-new flowers. The new ones can be distinguished by a single white petal, streaked or spotted with color. They open overnight and are only receptive to pollination on the first day, after which the white petal falls away, and pollinators are no longer attracted.

Royal poinciana
A royal poinciana in the Kapnick Brazilian Garden bursts into full buttery-yellow bloom in July 2019.

Bloom can last for months, and this year, the trees have gotten an early start due to our unusually dry winter and spring. The most attractive trees begin their bloom on bare branches, but fernlike bright-green foliage soon follows. Naturally wider than they are tall, the trees should be planted where their cascading branches and graceful umbrella of a canopy can be fully appreciated.

Royal poinciana (Delonix regia)
Royal poinciana (Delonix regia)

Native to Madagascar, where they are endangered in the wild, poincianas are planted throughout the tropical world where the conditions are right, ensuring the species’ long-term viability. South Florida is perfect for them, with its dry winters and moist, humid summers. Besides the Garden, where you can enjoy many flower colors, they are popular street trees in Naples. A particularly dense group of trees on 6th Street South and 4th Avenue South have been an attraction for years. Search out empty lots, especially those that are not irrigated, to see enormous royal poincianas in full bloom in their most natural form.

It is no wonder that they are known in many parts of the world by variations of the word “flamboyant.” We are lucky to live here, where we can take pleasure in one of the top 10 most spectacular flowering trees in the world.

About the Author

Liz Chehayl is the Brian Holley Curator of Collections at Naples Botanical Garden. She was raised in St. Louis, where she was a frequent visitor to Missouri Botanical Garden, but she really discovered the delights of tropical plants when she moved to Naples almost 20 years ago. She is an active member and former president of Naples Garden Club.

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