Paradise Poinciana

Yesterday I posted a shrub native to South America that has become naturalized in parts of the United States (Redclaws 03-15-22) after being introduced as an ornamental. Paradise poinciana (Erythrostemon gilliesii) is another South American introduction.

An arid climate shrub or small tree, paradise poinciana is native to Argentina and Uruguay. It is now grown as an ornamental throughout the world. In the United States this member of the Legume Family (Fabaceae) is naturalized in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Formerly designated Caesalpinia gilliesii, paradise poinciana is also called bird of paradise, not to be confused with the bird of paradise from Africa. The specific epithet honors John Gillies (1792 – 1834), a Scottish naval surgeon who collected plants in Argentina and Chile. The genus name means red stamens from the Greek erythros/red and the Latin stemon/stamen.

This evergreen or cold deciduous shrub is scraggly and unsymmetrical. When the foliage is bruised it emits an unpleasant odor.

Paradise poinciana leaves are fernlike and bipinnately compound. There are 8 to 10 pairs of pinnae. Each pinna has 7 to 11 pairs of elliptical leaflets.

The most striking feature of paradise poinciana are the flowers, or more specifically the 10 showy red stamens that extend three to four inches beyond the five pale yellow petals. The inflorescence is an open terminal raceme.

Paradise poinciana fruits are fuzzy, curved, flattened, linear seedpods. The seedpods are green turning brown with age. Each seedpod contains 8 to 10 spotted tan seeds. At maturity the seedpods split open explosively expelling seeds in all directions. The seeds and green seedpods are toxic.

This paradise poinciana was photographed in April near Casa Paloma II in Green Valley AZ.

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3 Responses to Paradise Poinciana

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Oh wow! I remember this one. I actually purchased a small seedling from a nursery near Palm Springs as a ‘native’. I was likely informed at the time that it was merely naturalized there, but do not remember. It did not last long, as I overwatered it. I am presently growing Caesalpinia pulcherrima from seed that a reader sent to me from Texas.


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