When I first came to the Caribbean, back in my early twenties, I wasn’t that "into" plants and trees. My days were mostly taken up with reveling in the laid-back lifestyle of the tropical island where I was living, and the opportunities for sailing, beach-going, and partying, but I will never forget the first time I spotted a flash of the most intense flaming red on the otherwise mostly green hillside, and I soon realized that these brightly colored trees dotted the entire island.
I now know that Delonix regia, which the native population referred to as "Flamboyant," is a tropical tree that is a striking sight all over the Caribbean, as well as in Southeast Asia, South Africa, and Australia, but it is in fact native to Madagascar. It is also known as Royal Poinciana. The ease with which it propagates from seed no doubt has contributed to its spreading worldwide. It is the official state tree of St. Kitts and Nevis.
It is a very effective shade tree in tropical areas, with its perfect umbrella shape. Its feathery fern-like foliage is deciduous in the winter months, providing great cover in the hot summer and allowing plenty of light in the cooler days of the Caribbean dry winter season.
The bright orange-red variety is the most commonly seen, but there is a very striking yellow form, which is said to have originated in Martinique.
The large flowers initially display one white petal, which is thought to attract pollinators. After pollination has taken place, the white petal folds in on itself, no longer signaling the availability of that particular flower for pollinating purposes.
The large seed pods grow rapidly, starting out a bright green and then drying to deep dark brown. I saw these being used as musical instruments in the Caribbean. The pods open at the end of the dry season, releasing the many seeds within, perfectly timed with the start of the rainy period. In a few weeks many small seedlings cover the ground beneath the trees. They grow rapidly, ensuring the survival of the species.
As a leguminous tree it also improves the soil in which it grows.