Caesalpinia pulcherrima

peacock flower


Caesalpinia pulcherrima

(L.) Sw. 1791

pronounced: ses-al-PIN-ee-uh pull-KAIR-ih-muh

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Caesalpinioideae - the cassia subfamily


common names: peacock flower, dwarf poinciana

Caesalpinia was named for Andreas Caesalpini (1519–1603), Italian botanist, physician and Professor of Medicine at Pisa; pulcherrima is from the Latin pulcherrimus, most beautiful.

This tree or shrub is a native of the tropical and sub-tropical Americas, but its exact origins are not known, due to its widespread cultivation. In sub-tropical areas it usually grows as a large shrub, but in the tropics it is often found up to 6 m tall, with ungainly branches spreading out to cover about the same width. The branches droop, and the plant is typically multi-trunked. In the garden, pruning is required to maintain a pleasing shape.

The leaves are opposite or sub-opposite, bipinnately compound, the leaflets oblong to elliptic in shape, with entire margins.

The exceptionally showy flowers are bowl-shaped, 5–7 cm across, with 5 crinkled, unequal red and orange petals, and 10 prominent bright red stamens that extend way beyond the corolla. They are borne in terminal clusters 20–25 cm long throughout much of the year in tropical climates, and in late summer in areas where winter frosts occur. There are also forms with yellow flowers, and some with dark red flowers.

Fruit pods are produced, up to about 15 cm in length, ripening and drying to a hard brown pod, when they split open noisily to expose the little brown beans.

The tree will grow in full sun or partial shade, and will tolerate most types of soil, but it does like to be well-drained. It tolerates drought reasonably well, and also salt air.

Propagation is by seed, and, judging by the number of seedlings growing around the tree photographed, on the summit of Nobby Head, there should be little difficulty with germination.

The tree is a food source for the caterpillars of the Macadamia Nutborer Cryptophlebia ombrod.

This is the national flower of Barbados, and is featured on the Queen’s personal standard for that island.

Medicine men in the Amazon rainforest have long known the medicinal uses of the plant. A combination of the roots, bark and leaves is boiled to make a medicinal tea, to treat fever, jaundice, kidney disease and gastrointestinal disorders. Gargling with the tea is used to treat sores in the mouth or throat. A liquid extracted from the flowers is used as as eye wash, and also applied to the body as an insect repellent. The green fruit pods, said to have astringent properties, are eaten to treat dysentery or severe diarrhoea.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken on Nobby Head 2013, and in Horseshoe Bay 2014
Page last updated 25th October 2018