Poinciana

Delonix regia

Family:     Fabaceae   Origin: Poincianas are native to Madagascar

The common name Poinciana comes from the tree originally being placed in the genus of the same name. It has also been called flamboyant and, along with many other trees, flame tree.

It has become naturalised in many countries into which it has been introduced, especially in Asian countries near the equator: in China, for example. For this reason it should be treated with some caution by responsible gardeners in Brisbane.

Arboriculture

Growth form

Royal Poinciana, in good climates, grows up to 9 to 12 metres high. They have a wide umbrella canopy that usually grows wider than the tree is tall. This has made poinciana useful in hot climates as a shade tree because of its height and thick, wide canopy of leaves. Poincianas have a tendency to develop dead wood that attracts borers when pruned internodally: call us if you need a Brisbane arborist to prune dead wood from your poinciana.

Trunk

The poinciana has a relatively smooth trunk of a light brown color. It can start branching too low to the ground for people to walk under it, so should be pruned while still juvenile to eliminate low scaffold branches.

Flowering

For several weeks in spring and summer Poinciana is covered with exuberant clusters of flame-red flowers, 10 to 12 cm across. Even up close the individual flowers are striking. They have four fan-shaped scarlet or orange-red petals about 7.5 cm long, and one upright slightly larger petal–the standard–which is marked with yellow and white.

The flowering ability of a tree is determined by age, genetics and environment. Poincianas shouldn’t be expected to bloom until reaching at least six years of age, sometimes older. If they have been grown from a parent or parents with good flowering genes they should flower prolifically with, ironically, either good nutrition or under stress.

Poinciana flower
Close up of a poinciana flower

Foliage

The poinciana’s compound leaves are striking. They are lacy and fernlike, bipinnate, and 30.5 to 50.8 cm long with 20 to 40 pairs of primary leaflets, each divided into a number of pairs of secondary leaflets.
poinciana foliage

Fruits

Being in the Fabaceae family, Poincianas are legumes so their fruit really is a bean. Their seeds start out green and soft, but become brown and woody as they age. They look like flat pods up to 60cm long and 5cm wide).

Management

Propagation

Poinciana are commonly propagated by soaking the seeds for up to 24 hours in water before planting them in warm, moist soil. Instead of soaking, the seeds can also be nicked open allowing water to get inside the pods, and then planted immediately.

An alternative method is to take a branch and cut it into 30 centimeter long sections, and then plant those in soil. Rooting hormone (auxin) will aid the cutting to take hold.

Cultivation

The Poinciana requires a tropical or near-tropical climate and full sunlight, but can tolerate drought and salty conditions. Poinciana prefers an open, free-draining sandy or loamy soil enriched with organic matter. The tree does not like heavy or clay soils and flowers more profusely when kept slightly dry. It is also tolerant of somewhat acidic and alkaline soils.

Phosphatic fertilizer can aid in flowering and can be applied at the start of Spring. Juveniles can also be fertilized in Summer and Autumn with a 15:5:15 or similiar fertilizer. Growing Poincianas is an exercise in balance. We also apply organic fertilizer subterraneously when pruning poincianas to aid their recovery.

Poincianas grow relatively fast, around 1.5 metres a year.

Issues

Borers

Poncianas are susceptible to borers that usually attack Australian natives. They should be examined externally for tell-tale borer holes. Peel aside a little bark from any damaged wood and look for pin-holes.

Borers can be killed mechanically by poking wire down the hole if caught early. Usually, it’s better to have us treat the tree by injecting an insecticide which is absorbed by the tree and kills the borers as they eat the wood.

If in doubt, have us examine the tree as we can use instruments to check for internal borer activity. If left untreated, Poincianas may collapse due to damage to the heartwood and the resulting rot.
poinciana borer close-up

Brown Root Rot

Poincianas can also be attacked by the same Fusariam fungus that causes brown root rot, killing many jacarandas in Brisbane’s parks a few years ago. The Brisbane City Council has established a management plan using a Trichoderma species of fungi, though it is still in a trial phase. The DPI are extending the trial to other regions and will publish results in 2016. Officially, removal of affected trees on private property is currently recommended.

Poincianas should not have mulch with pieces of wood greater than 25mm length applied to the soil within its canopy as this can aid in transmission of the Fusarium fungus.

Further reading and sources

Schwarze, Francis WMR, et al. “Evaluation of an antagonistic Trichoderma strain for reducing the rate of wood decomposition by the white rot fungus Phellinus noxius.” Biological Control 61.2 (2012): 160-168.

David’s field notes

Perhaps the biggest issue I see from day to day with Poincianas is poor pruning technique. Poinciana branches that have been cut out from the trunk will do one of two things. Firstly, they can simply die, becoming dead wood that later falls from the tree. Until they fall they expose the tree to the entry of bacteria, fungi, insect and borer attack.

Secondly, and even more commonly, watersprouts will grow from the cut branch. Poincianas have strong epicormic growth; that is, they have dormant buds along the branches. As a result new, spindly branches grow much faster than the section that was removed so the property owner has to have the tree pruned regularly. This is another example of it being more economical to have something done right, the first time.

Further, poor pruning practices destroys the structural integrity of the tree as solid watersprouts are prone to snapping. I recommend only having Poincianas pruned by an arborist.

168 thoughts on “Poinciana”

  1. What would be good plants to plant under a 50 + year old poinciana tree tree is close to outside entertainment area. Is it best to have chip bark or is there another product more suited ?

  2. I have just discovered a hole in my tree! I poked in there with a stick and I pulled out wet chewed wood which is brown in color. I also looked in with a torch, it’s in about an inch! I took a photo but can’t attach it.

  3. Hello David,
    Really happy to have found your website. We live in Maryborough Qld, have done since 2003. When we bought our home it had a lovely Poinciana in the back corner. Didn’t take up much room at all, but we both fell in love with it and hence bought the house. Since that time (17 years) she has developed to such a degree we sometimes thought we would have her taking over the deck. I have asked various people on many occasions about the longevity of these beautiful trees. No one can give me a definite answer. Her branches look quite gnarled, there has been no borer activity (our pest man checks every year). We have been remiss in not having professional pruning done, although it has been done when branches have become obstructive. Basically, I think what we want to know is – how long do they live, what to look for if she is getting towards the end game. Any information and advice will be gladly acted upon. If you know of anyone in the Maryborough area that would be willing to do a ‘house-call’, please advise. Thank you for your time. Cheers, Lyn and Bas.

    1. We had what was already a big Poinciana across the road when we moved to Toombul in 1959. I was 4 yo back then so I guess it looked big and beautiful to me. It lasted about another 30 odd years. The rot got it in the end and it collapsed in a storm. You don’t want your deck under it when that happens. Prune it. Why not get a callistemon or a beautiful big grevilia and have the birds as well.

      Cheers

  4. Message from Florida;
    We have a young Poincianna about 7ft. (2.1 m) Is it safe for the tree if we cut the pods before the drop.

  5. I’m on a very large block in Brisbane and I have a mature poinciana in my backyard which has been great for shade however had grown so much bigger in the six years I’ve lived here that it’s roots have taken over both sides of my garden and had started to affect the structural integrity of my deck. Poinciana might be lovely but now I’m faced with over 1000 dollars to remove it. Please consider other less evasive natives when you plant.

  6. Richard Jansen

    I have a full grown poinciana tree that would be perfect for a tree house. Would it cause any issues to screw into the large lower branches tree for the tree house frame?

    1. Hi there our very large poinciana had a lot of flowers last year but is very late this year with very little new growth. We are in northern NSW and there seem to be lots of them similarly affected in this area.
      Is this normal?
      Thx MAREE

  7. Annette O'Hara

    Can you plant under a poinciana tree. Last year I planted an assortment of bulbs and my tree did not flower for the first time ever.

  8. Hi David, got a quick one for you. Can you please tell me what variety(ies) of flowers I can/cannot plant under a Poinciana tree?
    Thanks, Pete.

  9. Manfred Beyrer

    Hello David,
    our tree seems to be carrying the same infestation with green caterpillars then every other poinciana in the suburb. Our neighbor Tim has advised that you did some pest treatment against these caterpillars a few weeks ago. Is it too late in the season to tackle this now? We also are having issues in keeping our lawn alive in the areas beneath the tree .
    Looking forward to your suggestions.

  10. Poincianas in the Chapel Hill / Kenmore area have their leaves eaten by tiny caterpillars whose subsequent dirt is sprinkled on the ground. Most of the trees are now stripped of the tiny leaves of the tree. Is there any means of preventing this?

  11. We have a giant, and very old, Poinciana in the playground of our church. Is it a suitable tree to hang a rope swing from?? Someone mentioned that they have a risk of falling limbs – though we have not seen evidence of that in our tree. Thanks!!!

  12. Great info David thanks.
    We need to cut down a Poinciana as the roots are impacting our driveway. If we leave the stump will it regrow?

    And the roots of a second tree are headed toward our house. Is it possible to cut off just one large root without killing the tree?

    1. Hi there. Trying to find out if the Poinciana root system will effect septic trenches as I have one very close to it in the new house I just bought

  13. Hello my glorious poinciana tree is more than 20years old an has NEVER bloomed..any ideas why? It’s huge with massive foliage

    1. Hello David
      Where can I buy an aged tree to catch up on some growth….. that won’t cost the earth. Happy to pay $250. I plant a red poinciana at every house I purchase. They flower years later just as I’ve sold the property. Just moved again so now I have to start all over. I’m in CALOUNDRA.

  14. Hi David
    I live in Waterford Brisbane on a bend with a large front garden/naturestrip
    I want a poinciana tree as I love them but am concerned about roots, care and council
    Do I need permission from council and how would I begin it’s growth
    At what point do you plant

  15. Hi David
    I’m curious….
    There are a lot of Poinciana trees flowering in my Central Qld town at present and I noticed one in particular is more orange than the flame red. Is this due to a different type of poinciana, ageing flowers being darker red, or soil PH or some other reason?
    Thanks in advance for helping me with this question as it’s in my head every time I drive around town and see the orange flowers!!😂
    Kindest regards
    Vikki

    1. Hi Vikki. Good pick-up. They usually bloom bright red and fade to orange, but there is some variation in the timing of flowering and fading. There are also cultivars with variant colours. If you visit Brisbane be sure to check out the yellow-flowering cultivars at Roma St Parklands.
      Thanks, David.

  16. Hi David
    It looks like l have ants nests on the trunk of my tree. Very soft bark peels away easily. Am l able to treat tree?

    1. Hi Kerrie. My primary concern is why the ants are there. They do attack termites’ nests. I suggest having the tree checked by an arborist or pest manager.

  17. Hi David
    My glorious poinciana is probably 30years old and for the last 3 months has not had any foliage at all on it. I am nervous it has died. Is there any possibility it’s dormant because of the dry weather. It flowered beautifully last year. Could I please have you advice
    Many thanks Ann-Maree

  18. Hi David,I have 4 seedlings I have grown from a seed pod , when should I transplant them, Or pot into single pots as they are in one pot at the moment and this is their first year. We live in a frost prone area in northern Victoria, but have a sheltered garden. Thanks Jenny

    1. Hi Jenny. Poincianas do well in Brisbane, not so well in southern states. I wish you luck but have doubts they will succeed once planted in the ground.

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