“What is that plant with the big orange and red flowers? It’s blooming all over town!” As a known plant-o-file, I hear this question all summer long. And I’m happy to answer, because this showy gal is one of my favorite summer-blooming plants! Pride of Barbados, or Caesalpinia pulcherrima, behaves like a perennial in Central Texas. It thrives in the summer heat, and then dies back to the ground with the winter frost. It’s reportedly hardy to 18 degrees, and will grow back the next summer provided there are no severe freezes.
Summer is key for Pride of Barbados. It loves the hot temperatures, and usually doesn’t come out of dormancy until the weather warms up. Mine usually come out in mid-May when the temps start to reach 90. I thought I’d lost the one by my mailbox the year we had a few 17 degree nights, but it surprised me in June with little sprouts! It grew back to full size and was covered in blooms by midsummer. And the blooms are really showstoppers. The multi-flower clusters of bright red and orange blossoms have ruffled edges and long red stamens. The flowers always remind me of Vegas showgirls, especially when they shimmy in the summer breeze.
Butterflies love them too, and will often perch on the flowers for a sip of nectar. The rest of us have to be a little more careful though, as Pride of Barbados does have small cactus-like spines covering the stems.
This plant prefers well-drained environment, so be sure to amend the soil if you’re planting is some of that Austin clay. While Pride of Barbados does well with 100 degree days, she will not tolerate soggy roots. With proper soil and planted in full sun, most will grow to be a medium size shrub (about 5-8 ft) each summer. It’s a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and puts on pea-looking seed pods after flowering.
So give Pride of Barbados a try in your garden! You can buy them at most nurseries and home improvement stores starting in June. (If you’re lucky you might find them in May.) It’s heat tolerant, drought tolerant, and has been selected as a Texas Superstar by the Texas A&M Agri-life. You can even plant it in a large pot on a sunny patio or balcony. In the heat of summer when other folks are watering their begonias like crazy, your Pride of Barbados will be the envy of the neighborhood!