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.

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).
poinciana seed pods

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.

poiciana borer

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.
Bad pruning of a poinciana has left this tree dangerous and damaged

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Comments

  1. Michael says

    I have a Royal Poinciana on my nature strip in the Redlands – Alexandra Hills. Does anyone know the council regulations regarding removal? I really would like to plant a native instead.

  2. Richard Reid says

    We have a pair of very old poincianass in our front yard and several months ago we were compelled to cut back one of them severely to comply with cabling requirements, leaving no foliage at all. We were heartened that the branches started to sprout shortly afterwards but these eventually died off and the street now appears dead a few months later despite ok our constant watering and provision of plant food. My wife wants to cut it down completely but I don’t want to if there is any hope of revival. Any thoughts?

  3. Jannette bartlett says

    Hi

    My poinciana is about 15 years old and I’ve noticed that it has very large deep cracks in the bark You can actually put your finger right into the cracks which are the length of the trunk. Some of the branches have grey nobbley growths on them as well. The leaves are just budding but the same tree next door has leaf coverage whereas mine has none. Please advise what would be the cause of the cracking bark we would be devastated to lose the tree

    We live on the Gold Coast at currumbin.

    Thank you

    Jannette

  4. Sorayah Zazuri says

    Hi David,

    My inlaws have a poinciana tree that is over 30 years old and has apparently never flowered or seeded. Why would this be?

    Cheers

  5. Damon says

    Hi David,

    We have moved into a house 6 months on ago on a semi rural property near Gladstone Qld. We have two large Poinciana trees, one at each end of the house.

    I am concerned about the root system as they have lifted and cracked the concrete footpaths in may places. Both tree trunks are centred approx. 8 metres away from the house.
    One tree is about 8mtr tall and the other about 10mtr tall. Should I be concerned for the house’s structural integrity? I’m just wondering how much more they might grow and whether they may cause any further damage. I do not want to cut these trees down as they are beautiful and provide magnificent shade.

    Your thoughts greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Damon

    • Rohin says

      Hi Damon.

      Just wondering if you have cut your tree yet or not. I am in exactly the same position. Got a poinciana tree approx 15 ft from.thr house. It has already started to lift the driveway edges a bit. Council wants to cut it down and I am thinking of keeping it if it doesn’t affect the foundations of the house.

      Any insight you have had in this matter would be appreciated.

  6. Sam says

    Hi David

    We are just about to move to a property in hendra which is think has a massive one of these trees in the backyard. Went to check the property today and a massive limb had fallen, like big enough to seriously injure or kill someone.
    Did find a grub that looked like the one posted here. The real estate are looking into it but would Love to be able to refer them to someone who knows what to do so the tree is properly inspected and pruned properly.

  7. annette baskerville says

    Hi
    i have a poinciana needs trimming
    also has little fig trees growing in its joints
    pls contact me if u can give me a quote
    thank you

  8. Hilda says

    Hi i bought a poinciana tree as i am acrajd is would be a jacaranda tree how can i differ between then in an easy way? I paid 35$ in order to buy it but maybe it is not royal poinciana it is 3 meters long bit still no blooming to know

  9. Bette says

    Hi David—Today I noticed a white,bubbly substance oozing from a very small hole on the trunk of a poinciana tree planted on our footpath by Council approx. 10 yrs ago. It appears a healthy tree and has flowered this year. The bark of the tree below the oozing looks damp and flies seem attracted to the substance—have not seen anything like this before —-what are your thoughts——Many thanks —B.

  10. Sorin says

    Hi David,

    I live in the Southern Brisbane suburbs. In the past week I noticed that my potted 4 year old poincianas seem to be drying out and I am thinking it is a bit a early in the winter to loose their leaves. I am concerned that they might be dying and looking for advice to save them. I can send pictures if you are interested to have a look.

    Thank you,
    Sorin

  11. Lia says

    I live a few km from beach in Perth and would love to plant a poinciana in my front yard but it is South facing in front of a triple story house and there is little sun there and quite windy
    Would it be too cold to grow one there?
    Any suggestions for an other shade loving soft beautiful tree would be very welcome
    Lia

  12. John says

    Hi ,
    Thanks good read. .

    JUST wondering about proximity to the house . We planted our seedling in 2010 , now getting big (and beautiful!) .
    It’s 6 or 7 feet from the house front?
    Thanks in advance

  13. Peta says

    Hello,
    I live on a cattle property outside Taroom, Qld
    We have several poincianas outside our garden fence. We spreAd some old chook manure ( had a semi load from a chook farm) around some trees… Within a month those trees had grown rich deep green leaves, and many more leaves… We then finished the man urging job, and all look healthy
    Inside the garden a very big (10y/o) poincianna died… Very quickly ! It had had the same manure treatment
    When my husband cut it for removal, we found many borer holes
    Another garden poincianna now has big lumps of beer bottle coloured sap on its branches….. This tree did develop dead brNches in it, we have cut them out- back to the main trunk
    There are also splits ( 1-3″ long) in the trunk and branches
    Is there a systemic treatment we can use for borers?
    Sorry to be longwinded, not sure what to do to safe guard our trees
    In appreciation
    Peta Adams

  14. Lee says

    We have a poinciana approx 6 yrs old. It seems this year to have lots of seed pods on it. Should i remove them or leave them to fall naturally?

  15. VElvet Friar says

    I planted a Poinciana about 12-18 months ago and have had continued growth upwards and upwards of new leaves, no flowers as yet. There is only one stork or trunk if I cut it, will it continue to grow? I live north of Townsville, beachfront position. MY question is, should I cut off the top of the trunk for it spread and form a canopy? I need some advice as local nurseries seem not to know what I should do. Many thanks in anticipation for your reply.

  16. Simon says

    Hi David,

    Our neighbours have a poinciana that overhangs our driveway. At this time of year (Oct/Nov) it drops black “spots” all over our cars and stains the paintwork – especially on white cars.

    Are these spots bug poo, or something to do with the flowers?

    Is there any way to stop them other than not parking under it?

    Thanks

    Simon

  17. Pam Ross says

    l have a Poinciana tree that is 50 years old. It has been heavily pruned but has come back beautifully. We have pavers under the tree around a small garden which is up against the trunk. The pavers are lifting due to the large roots ;pushing them up. Is it okay to take up the pavers and prune the roots? Will this kill the tree? We don’t want it to die as it has great sentimental value. We live in Mackay, Qld.+ Thanking you in anticipation.

    Pam

    • Matthew Bower says

      Hi my name is Matt.
      I live on the gold coast and have a beautiful old Poinciana in the front yard and also need to cut a large section of the roots out on one side of the tree to fit a new carport.
      I am very worried about cutting the roots as I don’t want to loose our beautiful tree.
      if you get an answer about your root problems could you be so kind as to email me some advice.
      Thankyou
      Kind regards Matt

    • Justin says

      Hi Mathew,

      I had two 40 plus year old Poinciana’s, One in the front yard and another in the back. The back trees surface root system was badly damaged and it died, As a rule do not cut away or damage their root system surface or otherwise. Both of these trees have and had great sentimental value, and now we only have one left. My advice is to work around or in other words (with) the tree and pave pave around the roots!

      Cheers,

      Justin.

      • matthew says

        Thanks for the reply Justin.
        unfortunately I have had to cut away approx. 1/4 of the surface roots on one side of the tree as it was impossible to keep them. This was done last December and so far so good. Have just had all the leaves drop off and new shoots are sprouting all over the tree now. Which is normal for this time of year. haven’t pruned it as I didn’t want to stress it any more than what I already have.
        I am worried that it will one day just die but at this stage I have my fingers crossed.

        Thanks
        Kind Regards
        Matt

  18. margaret carman says

    Hi
    I have a poinciana planted 3 years ago, now approx 4 mts in height.
    Is it possible to transplant it. Am moving to a new property and the tree has great sentimental value.
    Have been told to dig a large circular pit around it, approx half mt from the trunk, line the hole with black plastic, water the tree very well and allow the roots to regrow into the plastic lined bowl.
    Are there likely to be any vertical deep roots? So far the largest we have come across would be about the size of 50c piece, at about half a meter depth. The tree is just making its move to shoot as we have had a very late spring; temperatures here in Perth are just beginning to warm up….
    Many thanks
    Marg

  19. Erin says

    Hi David

    I have returned to a property after 5 years which has a very large poinciana. When I left it was very healthy with lots of green foliage and flowered beautifully.

    It is now quite bare and showing no signs of flowering this year plus on one or two of the larger branches there appears to be bark breaking away.

    I had an issue at the property in the last few months with a concealed water leak that water logged my hedge and close to killed it but the hedge next to the tree is fine.

    I live in Brisbane

    Any ideas?

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