Desert Shrubs – Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Arizona and Texas bushes

Lacy leaves and continually blooming red, orange with a splash of yellow flowers on my Bird of Paradise Arizona shrub. I was worried that the monsoon rains from this week would damage my young Red Bird of Paradise plant. No worries! I have new orange, yellow and red flowers decorating our driveway and the hummingbirds love it.

Arizona and Texas bushes
bushes with bean pods and orange flowers

The Southwest including California, Arizona, and Texas are cascading with these flowering desert plants and hardy drought tolerant bushes.

orange flowering arizona bushes
Bird of Paradise shrub with orange flowers

Some my even think the Red Bird of Paradise is a native plant of Arizona. Actually,  Red Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima,  is native to the tropics and subtropics of the Americas and is also the NATIONAL flower of the Caribbean island of Barbados, which is why you may hear it called Pride of Barbados.

This flowering perennial shrub is one of the easiest desert plants to care for. Red Bird of Paradise is very hardy, drought tolerant once established. (they can have very long taproots) With a little mulch at the base, they come back year after year.

The Red Bird of Paradise

I’ve heard many people in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona refer to this orange and red desert bush as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana). The real Mexican Bird of Paradise has yellow flowers and is larger. The Mexican Bird of Paradise is native to Mexico.

Mexican Bird of Paradise is native to Mexico and has yellow flowers
Red Bird of Paradise in Tucson

The Red Bird of Paradise is a deciduous (loses its leaves) shrub that thrives in  full sun and has bright red, yellow and orange flowers that grow on long, thin stalks. The leaves are lacy,  ferny-looking. The Red Bird of Paradise is a fairly fast grower, and can get large, so periodic trimming is suggested.

yellow and orange flowering bush

A few bean pods are appearing on the Red Bird of Paradise bushes in our yard.  I look forward to propagating the seeds later this season as I’ve already located a sunny spot in our xeriscape desert garden to grow more. Red Bird of Paradise plants are a species in the FABACEAE Family, more commonly known as the pea, bean or legume family.

Bean Pods on Bird of Paradise bush
Bean Pods on Red Bird of Paradise

To germinate the Red Bird of Paradise seeds, I simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 24 hours.  I put them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds. They germinate. Red Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Red Bird of Paradise seedlings much easier. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant your Bird of Paradise just put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.

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Author: tjsgarden

We are a family that loves the Arizona Desert. A lot of research and team efforts go into our articles and photos. Come discover the beauty and mystery with us. Don't forget your sunscreen!

22 thoughts on “Desert Shrubs – Caesalpinia pulcherrima”

  1. I see this is an old post, so not sure if anyone is still giving this blog any attention. Curious if this plant is considered javelina safe. Appreciate any input on that. Would like to plant flowering plants that are javelina safe.

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    1. Thanks for the question Grace; and yes this plant is javelina and all other critters safe. Eating this plant makes one very ill and no animals will bother it. Best Regards,

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    1. Actually, you can see many bean pods on the bushes around your area (if in Southwest) and pick some when they have turned brown. If none are available, you can order the small plants from Home Depot, or order seeds online at Amazon.com. I hope this helps.

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  2. I saw this plant at the Library in El Paso when I was there a few years back and took a few seeds home after snapping a photo of one with a bee in a flower. Now I know the name and you gave enough information to help me start at least one of these seeds. The real problem I have is that the soil here (San Diego, CA) is clay, and have had trouble growing even pepper plants.

    Not sure which amendments I will need to keep the plant healthy. Currently I have a Duranta with beautiful small purple blooms that grow similarly to the one featured.

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    1. Lee I would not recommend it because the Red Bird of Paradise is healthiest with a well formed taproot. In all my years living in the desert I have never seen one in a planter but that doesn’t mean you can’t try it. If you do, lets us know how it turns out! Remember Sun Sun Sun and well drained soil.

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    1. Hi Angie,

      You are pertaining to the Bird of Paradise Shrub correct? Do you have ripen bean pods? If so you can start them now indoors. Then transplant them outside in the Spring. Actually I’m soaking some seeds right now, and will start them in peat pots this weekend. Let me know if this helps.
      thank you,
      Tj

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  3. Evening Jack. Personally, I would keep the seeds in the pod to mail them. The pod is the best protection for the seeds. Your friends will enjoy the amazing Red Bird of Paradise!

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  4. With regard to the Red Bird of Paradise. Do they transplant well, and can they be successfully grown in more temperate regions and altitudes from seed?

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    1. Good question Jack. For seed (soak 24 hours), start seedling indoors in peat pots. Transplanting is easy; as you put the entire peat pot in the ground. The Red Bird of Paradise will be damaged if the temp reaches 32 F. It needs full sun and good drainage in the soil with moderate watering, careful not to overwater. Some of my Utah friends have been successful with this plant. Looks amazing in a green house too! Best Regards, Tj

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      1. Thank you for the information. I have friends in from Northern California who were admiring, and wondering how they would grow at home.

        If I can send seeds to them, is it better to remove them from the dried pods first, and will they keep in a dried state if carefully treated and packaged?

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