Royal Ponciana-with flame-colored blooms

July 7, 2021

The Flame Tree-Delonix regia

With Flame-colored blooms, the royal poinciana is the symbol of summer in Florida. Yes, the living is easy, picture your hammock under a 60′ spread of dense shade. The flame tree makes people happy around the tropical world. It’s the national flower of St Kitts and Nevis, the official tree of Key West, and don’t forget that it was a big 1944 hit for Frank Sinatra!

It might have been the last song that American GI’s heard before boarding the ships for war in Europe!

“Ponciana, your branches speak to me of love,

Ponciana, your branches speak to me of love

Pale moon is casting shadows from above

Where You Can See The Magnificent Red Tree

If the soldiers served in the Mediterranean they may have seen it. It ranges along southern Europe, to the middle east, you will see it in India and in the pacific region.

When Did The Town Turn Red?

We live on the Gulf Coast of Florida. One of our neighbors, who commonly returns to New England in May stayed through June one year. She said,” I never knew the whole town turned red“!

She was talking about the Flamboyant tree-Delonix regia. We call it our reward for living through the heat of a South Florida summer. it is a huge umbrella of a tree 50′ high but even wider. It has feathery leaves and, in bloom a rich orange-red color!

Where Do We Sit Under The Royal Ponciana?

It is widely grown around the warm climate world. In the US we see it in very few places. South Florida, The Rio Grande River Valley, the Southern parts of Arizona, Southern California. If you find yourself in any of those places in the month of June, don’t miss them.

You can see them lining the streets in places like Miami, Palm Beach, Naples, and on the Florida Keys. They are the national tree of Nevis and St Kitts and Puerto Rico has a valley named for them. It is so popular in South Florida that there are estimates that there are more of them in Florida now than in Madagascar their original home.

Where Did They Come From

Native to Madagascar they are thought to have been brought to the Caribbean island of St Kitts by its 17-century French Governor Phillipe de Longville de Poincy. A man who understood the concept of “living large,” he built the biggest mansion in the Caribbean and imported this vibrant tree from Madagascar. The mansion is a ruin today but the tree is living large in the Caribbean and any North American climates warm enough for it!

Uses For A Royal Ponciana Tree

We first think of this large and colorful tree as a specimen. In a large space, they can form a colorful grove. They will produce shade to cover understory trees. Beautiful Bonsai plants can be made from them. In streets wide enough to accommodate them they are popular street trees.

Give The Flame Tree Space!

At maturity, this is a large and wide tree. Expect it to grow to 40′ tall and as wide as 60.” giving it the ability to provide a wide umbrella-shaped canopy. In addition, the surface roots are large. Provide the tree with at least 15′ from sidewalks, pavement, and buildings. Do not expect grass below it to perform well.

How To Choose And Plant A Royal Ponciana Tree

The Royal Ponciana blossom not only covers the sweeping canopy of the tree. but up close it is spectacular also.

They are available from breeders in a variety of sizes. They normally begin to bloom at 5 years old. Allow the tree plenty of room. Keep them 20 feet from buildings and sidewalks. They have extensive surface root systems. The trees can reach 45-50 ‘ in height. and 60′ wide. This tree has a sweeping, wide, umbrella-shaped canopy. It requires a sunny location. It can be damaged by high winds, If a windbreak is available you may appreciate it. Royal Ponciana is fast growing and is able to gain as much as 5’ per year.

The Flower and Foliage

The flower is red, red-orange or yellow. It has a flamboyant orchid shape with three spoon-shaped petals and a larger petal. The foliage is delicate and fern-like and the bark is a smooth gray color. Both the flower and the foliage are very large., There is a large seed pod that will fall to the ground. Children who grow up on Caribbean islands make a musical instrument from them. You will find yourself raking in spring. The bloom period is very long- you will enjoy the color for two months.

Planting Zones

The trees will grow in zones 9b-11. How do I find my USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. This article will tell you where the tree grows throughout the world and has a chart showing its blooming times in each place in case you are traveling.

How To Plant

Having selected your place, dig your hole two-four times the size of your root ball. Amend the soil, spread the roots out gently, and water the tree well. The grass will grow poorly under the large canopy and the trunk is susceptible to damage. This suggests that a large ring of mulch is a good idea.

Soil

A variety of soil types are acceptable to this tree. The pH range is from 5.6-6 or 6.1-6.5. Once established the tree is tolerant of drought and salt.

How do I know if I have healthy soil? This may help. “What is good soil and how can I get it”?

Water And Fertilizer

Young trees require frequent watering, about three times per week. Adult trees require water only during times of drought.

Fertilize according to the age of the tree. If under 3 years fertilize, 3 times per year. If 3-5 years old, fertilize 2 times per year. Trees older than 5 years old rarely require fertilizer unless in very poor soil. Use a complete fertilizer graded 16-4-8 or 15-5-15.

Pests and Diseases

There are no significant pests or disease of the Royal Ponciana.

Pruning

Prune befort the spring regrowth begins, about mid March to April. Prune any major limbs that are as large as one half the trunk diameter.

Because it is a fast grower, young branches break easily. Remove low-hanging branches and promote strong and healthy branches. Ensure that all major limbs are 8-12′ above the ground. We live in a neighborhood with a number of them. One was damaged In Hurricane Irma and with reasonable pruning, has recovered well.

Royal Ponciana Bonsai

While you cannot grow a royal poinciana tree in your small yard you can grow one in a container. If you like the idea of creating a tiny bonsai tree from the flame tree here is an article with instructions,

Summary

This is a truly unusual tropical tree. It can serve as a destination in itself. If you have space you will enjoy it. if not, find a way to see them in May and June in many vacation spots around the world.

If you would like to find alternative tropical flowering trees here is a list I maintain.