Caesalpinia pulcherrima: Barbados Pride

Caesalpinia is a genus that includes truly magnificent plants. Most are shrubs or small trees, up to about 3 m (10 ft) in height, with pinnate leaves and yellow, orange or red flowers. They are distributed primarily in tropical America and Asia but because most are very decorative they may be encountered practically everywhere and it is not always easy to determine the origin of the given species.

The origin of C. pulcherrima is not quite clear either. Though many authorities argue that it is native to the Antilles or Central America, others believe it to be indigenous to tropical Asia. The first is the more probable for it has been proved that the Aztecs and Mayans used this species as a medicinal drug (to treat fever, skin diseases and venereal diseases). Another, though as yet purely theoretical possibility, is that there existed contact between the ancient civilizations of Central America and east or south-east Asia and that these drug plants may have been prized articles of commerce or gifts.

This decorative shrub is fairly easy to grow and it is difficult to understand why it is not commonly found in cultivation. In summer it requires ample sun and liberal watering and feeding, in autumn, after the flowers have faded, water should be limited to the minimum, but the temperature should not be lowered too much. From the foregoing it is evident that it is very well suited to modern centrally-heated homes where its requirements can readily be met if it is placed in a sunny window. It tolerates pruning relatively well. The prunings, however, cannot be used as cuttings and so the plants are propagated from seed. The soil should be a heavy, nourishing mixture, such as John Innes potting compost No. 3.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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