Peacock flower is an evergreen shrub or small tree in frost free climates, a deciduous shrub in zone 9, and a returning perennial in zone 8. In the tropics it gets 15-20' tall and its ungainly, wide spreading branches can cover about the same width. In cultivation peacock flower is usually 8-12' tall, growing that large even after freezing to the ground the previous winter. The stem, branches and petioles are armed with sharp spines and the leaves are fernlike and twice compound, with many small, oval leaflets. Peacock flower lives up to its name with incredibly showy blossoms of orange and red. The flowers are bowl shaped, 2-3" across, with five crinkled, unequal red and orange petals, and ten prominent bright red stamens that extend way beyond the corolla. The flowers are borne in terminal clusters 8-10" tall throughout most of the year in tropical climates and in late summer and fall where frosts occur. There also are forms with yellow and forms with dark red flowers. The fruits, typical legumes, are flat, 3-4" long, and when ripe they split open noisily to expose the little brown beans.
Peacock flower is believed to be native to the West Indies and tropical America. It is widely cultivated and has escaped cultivation and become established in tropical regions throughout the world, including South Florida. We at Floridata got our seeds from a missionary friend in the African nation of Chad! She called them "lentils", perhaps translating from the local French dialect.
Peacock flower is very easy to grow in alkaline to acidic, well-drained soils. This is a fast growing, but short lived plant. It is moderately tolerant of salty conditions. Peaccock flower benefits from pruning, and can be shaped to tree form or shrubby bush form. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Peacock flower blooms best in full sun. Moisture: Peacock flower is drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Peacock flower dies to the ground following frost or freezing temperatures, but in zone 8B, at least, it comes back reliable, albeit late, in middle spring. Don't give up on it! Peacock flower has survived temperatures as low as 18 F. It can be grown as an annual in colder climates. Even under frost free conditions, peacock flower may lose its leaves when temperatures drop into the 40's. Propagation: Peacock flower is easy to start from seeds. Germination will be speeded up if the seeds are nicked with a file before planting. Under good growing conditions, peacock flower will self sow and may even become weedy.
The striking orange red flowers are an attention grabber! Use peacock flower as a specimen or in a mixed shrub border. It has an open, spreading habit and the branches sometimes get too long for their own good and break off. Still, a line of peacock flowers makes a showy fine-textured screen or informal hedge. You can cut peacock flower to the ground in late winter or early spring to get a bushier, more compact shrub.
There are some 70 species of Caesalpinia in tropical regions worldwide. They were formerly placed in the genus Poinciana, but that genus name is no longer used. We all can't grow the tropical, royal poinciana, considered to be the most beautiful tree in the world, but for gardeners in zones 8 and 9, peacock flower (a.k.a. dwarf poinciana) is a close second!
Most references say that peacock flower is poisonous, but people in central Africa do eat the seeds, presumably after boiling in several changes of water. Don't plant this sharply thorny shrub near pedestrian traffic.
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Tallahassee, Florida USA