What is the small tree with yellow flowers and round leaves in Arizona? The Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise, is a flowering plant species in the pea family, Fabaceae. This drought tolerant, perennial tree is native to Mexico and the extreme lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
All parts of this Mexican plant are poisonous. The showy Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub thrives in dry conditions. Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.
If you are looking for a small shade tree that is flowering and easy to care for; the Mexican Bird of Paradise is perfect for your yard and a good choice for xeriscape desert gardens.
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Poinciana, does best in full sun. It is a perennial flowering tree that is heat resistant; with rounded leaves and spikes of solid yellow flower clusters. The fragrant yellow flowers of this Bird of Paradise are very showy and will bloom throughout the year! The USDA Hardiness Zone is 9.
In the photo ABOVE see the rounded shape of the leaves and the yellow flowers.
The “Red Bird of Paradise”, – commonly but mistakenly called (The Mexican Bird of Paradise), – has Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers. See the Picture below.
The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree.
How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods
Germinating the seeds for this Mexican Bird of Paradise will be easy! Simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 48 hours or like many people use a damp paper towel. If you are using the paper towel method to germinate your seeds-when a white shoot appears-plant it with the white shoot facing DOWN.
To plant and grow your bird of paradise — plant the seed in peat pots. Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or your choice of a good soil.
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 Mexican, Yellow or 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 potand the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.
As I was going to the store I came across one of the greatest displays of The New Gold, White, Red and even Purple Trailing Lantana I have ever seen! In our Arizona garden we have several species of Lantana because it is one of our desert favorites!
White, Red (Texas), Purple Trailing and Gold lantana mounds in this picture – Gorgeous!
Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the VERBENAfamily, (Verbenaceae). They are native to tropical regions of Africa and here in the Americas.
It comes in plants and shrubs commonly called Lantana and shrub verbenas. Some types are considered invasive; they spread easily because lantana leaves are somewhat poisonous to most animals.
This is precisely why Lantana is a large part of our desert garden. Not only is Lantana resistant to the hot temperatures in Southern Arizona, but also drought tolerant and all the small animals leave them alone! Our dogs are not interested in our lantana plants or their poisonous leaves at all.
The Purple Trailing Lantana looks beautiful dancing along side the Yellow New Gold and a lighter yellow lantana mound in the back.
Being somewhat toxic and rejected by herbivores, camara and trailing lantanas are very hardy, but once or twice a year mine become infested with pests. Insecticidal soaps will damage this plant. Try using plain dish soap with water in a spray bottle.
Although I did not see any berries in this orchestra of multi-colored lantana plants … the berries are edibleONLY when they are ripe.
Though the stems of lantana are thin, the wood is very tough and durable and thus useful for crafts and wickerwork. This is one heat resistant, hardy evergreen lantana shrub!
Planting, Growing and Caring for lantana is easy. They like a lot of sun and lantana is not picky about their soil.
Half of our garden lantana are growing in pots and containers, the other half is in the ground by cacti. We do water the potted lantana once a daywhen the temperature is high. Last week we reached 110 degrees and my pots / planters needed a small amount of water in the morning and then in the evening. This is unusual and was due to the bone dry heat.
Lantana stems are HOLLOWso overwatering will cause your lantana roots to rot. Try NOT to prune or trim your lantana until the end of the season. Remember the lantana stems are hollow.
On average, the ground lantana need a DEEP soaking twice a week. A good indicator is the leaves. If your lantana is wilting, then water but be careful NOT to get water on the leaves. Most of the lantana we have planted are in full sun. Watering at the roots prevents the risk of burning the leaves.
Arizona’s well-known desert bird of paradise shrubs burgeon with vivid red flowers or delightful yellow blooms. The red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, is our favorite and we have several constituting a border.
This Red Bird of Paradise is a drought and heat tolerant shrub that relishes full sun with its lively red- orange flowers cultivating out of long, thin stalks.
All the Desert Bird of Paradise bushes are Perennial (only plant them once). Pruning and trimming is standard since these desert plants are easy growers; reaching over 10 feet tall. PRUNING your Desert Bird of Paradise
Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Desert Bird of Paradise seedlings easy. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant simply put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.
To germinate Bird of Paradise seeds, soak the seeds from the bean pods (pods need to be brown) in water for 48-72 hours. Next plant them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds. You may prefer to use the paper towel method to germinate your seeds; if so, when a white shoot (root) appears, plant it with the white rootDOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.
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.
These resilient desert bushes THRIVE in intense heat and look stunning with cactus, succulents, Lantana, even Bougainvillea!
Honey and Velvet Mesquite Trees can take the extreme heat and the cold! This tree grows fast. What is the most common tree of the Desert Southwest? It is the Mesquite! Like many members of the Legume Family, mesquite trees restore nitrogen to the soil.
There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees: Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).
These native trees are extremely drought tolerant. Honey Mesquites are more rounded with big, floppy, drooping branches. The foliage is feathery and straight – paired with sharp spines on twigs.
This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft, but can reach as tall as 50 ft (15 m). The growth rate is medium. Honey mesquite coppices (it will make new growth from a root or stump if it is cut down), making permanent removal extremely hard. If a single trunk is cut down the Honey Mesquite will replace it with a multiple trunk version.
The Honey Mesquite has pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seed bean pods. In this picture you can see how long and strong this mesquite’s spikes are. I’ve learned NOT to wear flip-flops when walking around our Honey Mesquite!
Caring for mesquite trees is a simple process after the tree has fully matured. Mesquite trees need a full day’s worth of direct sun light to grow. Make sure to plant your mesquite tree in a place where it will always have a lot of quality sun.
Good staking is crucial to the mesquite tree, especially in areas with severe summer storms, monsoon season, or high winds.
The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!
The shortcoming of a Chilean or Honey Mesquite tree is wind damage. Proper staking and proper watering can help you avoid wind damage with your mesquite trees.
Make your Mesquite trees “seek out” water and nutrients by careful arrangement of your irrigation emitters and scheduled DEEP irrigation. This will develop a more dispersed root system and reduces the risk of wind throw.
Pruning will keep your tree from becoming messy, while stimulating new growth on those branches that you pruned. The dead, diseased, broken or weak branches, drain the Mesquite tree’s energy.
Mesquite bean pods are rich in carbohydrates and have very low moisture content, making them an excellent source for harvesting, processing, and storage. A variety of animals eat the seeds such as quail, dear, javelina, coyotes, squirrels and rats.
Historic records have indicated that almost every part of the mesquite tree has a use. The Pima Indians of southern Arizona referred to the mesquite as the TREE OF LIFE.
During the inevitable droughts and deprivations of desert frontier days, the mesquite trees served up the primary food source for caravans and settlers. Mesquite beans becamemanna from heaven.
Medical studies of mesquite trees and other desert foods, said that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour (made by grinding whole pods) is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Mesquite trees have lateral roots that extend far beyond the canopies of the plants and tap-roots that penetrate well below the surface of the soil. Some mesquites may live for more than two centuries; according to U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
(Prosopis Velutina) Velvet Mesquite is the most common of the North American varieties, it ranges from southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and most common to the Chihuahua and Sonorandeserts of Mexico.
Velvet Mesquite Trees are a deciduous plant that benefits by being able to retain moisture during the winter or exceptionally dry seasons better because water does not escape through the leaves. These Mesquite trees have elongated bean pods that are sweet to taste when ripe ( reddish-yellow color). This native tree has thorns with varying lengths even on the same branch.
For the first year, deeply water your mesquite tree every week or so until it has properly matured. Once your velvet mesquite tree has matured, it can survive with a little supplemental water in addition to natural rain. In case of droughts, do water your mesquite trees more often.
Velvet Mesquites hold the record for deepest root (160′); these tap-roots can tap into deep, underground water supplies that aren’t available to the average plant.
The seeds of mesquite trees need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract) to germinate. Coyotes, and other desert animals eat the bean pods regularly.
Quick facts: Yucca is a category of trees and shrubs that are members of the Asparagaceae family. It is an evergreen plant which does not annually shed its leaves. The long, narrow and pointed leaves of the Yucca grow in a cluster along the stem. Agave and Yucca are similarand belong to the same subfamily, Agavoideae.
From the center of this leaf cluster grows a cluster of bell shaped flowers. The edges of the leaves tend to be razor sharp, and the flowers are whitish-green, white or cream colored. In the evening some yucca blossoms open and emit a strong fragrance.
Yuccas come from the deserts and plains of southern North and Central America and with their stiff, leathery leaves and panicles of creamy white flowers, they make great architectural plants.
The yucca plant produces a fleshy or dry fruit. It is a large fruit that contains numerous small, flat, ebony colored seeds. The Native Americans ate the yucca’s fruit during the winter months, after first preserving it by drying. The Native Americans also made fermented beverages from the yucca fruit. The appearance of the yucca fruit varies by the type of yucca plant. Some resemble a green egg plant, and others look like wrinkled bell peppers.
Yucca plants grow in parts of the Caribbean, in the southern and southwestern parts of the United States and in Mexico’s desert highlands and plateaus. While most of the plants are shrubs, there are some tree varieties, such as the Joshua tree. A large collection of yucca plants grow at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert. The Joshua Tree National Park includes over 800,000 acres, and is under the National Park’s authority.
Native Americans found many uses for the yucca plant. From the leaf fibers they made baskets, sandals, ropes and mats. They utilized the fruit as food and to make drinks. They even ate the flowers from the yucca, which were either boiled or eaten raw. From the stems and roots of the yucca they made soap. Today yucca plants are used as decorative yard foliage and as bordering plants.
Yucca trees are known for being quite tall, although they can be grown indoors if you trim them back often.
If you are growing a yucca tree indoors, repot your yucca cane when it becomes top heavy or its roots stick out of the drainage hole at the bottom of its container.
These Yucca trees are quite strong as well, so you don’t need to worry about damaging them when pruning and trimming. Pruning yucca trees is a simple and straightforward process. Because the yucca tree is a cane plant, pruning is synonymous with cutting the trunk.
Like most plants, the best time for pruning a yucca is right before it goes into its growth period. This will be in early spring. While early spring is the ideal time, a yucca can be pruned anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering. Like all things about yucca plants, care and pruning is very easy. It may seem drastic, but I assure you that your yucca plant considers this to be a very normal thing.
Wear gloves as you trim and shape your Yucca, otherwise you will get many cuts on your hands. The pruning will be much easier if you have extra sharp garden shears.
The yucca plant in the above picture was so large we could not walk to the front door. Pruning your Yucca is a bit time consuming but is well worth it. As I look above at our Yucca I think it needs a little more trimmed off the top!
Propagating cacti is very easy. First gather the cactus cuttings from the parent plants. Make sure your knife is clean and sharp before cutting your cactus. For paddle cacti a single pad makes a good cutting.
For branching cacti, be sure the cutting is taken from a joint on the mother plant. Cutting on a diagonal angle is beneficial to the mother cactus so water doesn’t pool on the healed cut. Never handle a cactus with your hands.
To grow a successful cactus you MUST let the fresh cutting callus over and heal. Place them in a dry, warm place for up to 2 weeks. The larger the cut surface is, the longer it needs to dry. This may sound extreme but remember cactus are drought tolerant. If you choose to use a rooting hormone make sure it is powder! Do not let your cactus cuttings get moist or wet.
It is easiest for your cactus cuttings to root during warm weather. According to the University of Arizona, the best time to propagate your cacti is during August & September when the soil temperatures are warm and conducive to rooting. Some shade is best for rooting and will prevent your cactus cuttings from sunburn.
Pick a good container with drainage holes for your callused cactus cutting.
When planting your cactus use a well drained soil mixture designed specifically for cacti. Plant the cutting about 2 inches deep and pack the soil around the cactus. I also use small rocks to help keep the cuttings from falling over. Wait about 2 weeks to water; then soak the cactus well and let it dry out another 2 weeks. The biggest problem for growing cactus is over-watering. Too much water causes the roots to rot.
The photo above is a prickly pear cutting that I planted in well draining soil in southern Arizona. I’m starting a cacti garden on a rocky hill using different species of cactus cuttings.
Cactus are dormant during winter. Do not water a cactus during cold weather unless it looks shriveled.
Yucca is an evergreen, perennial plant with spine-tipped leaves that grow in a rosette around a thick central stem. More than 25 species of Yucca live in the arid regions of the southwest. One of the finest aspects of this desert plant is that it is low maintenance.
If its craggy look doesn’t bother you then it is not even necessary to prune it.
Trimming the Yucca plant is commonplace, especially for ornamental purposes. The best time to prune those rugged leaves is spring. While early spring is the ideal season, a yucca can be trimmed anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering.
Cutting back a yucca may look harsh, but it is an attractive way to keep your plant manageable. When the Yucca completes flowering cut the stalk all the way to the ground with a sharp pair of lopping shears. To prevent cuts and scratches, wear heavy garden gloves.
Keep in mind that cutting the top off the yucca encourages the root system to push up new growth and more plants, called “pups” will appear. Hire professionals to do your yucca trimming if you are short on time.
Tidbits: The Apache Indians preferred the flowers of Yucca elata, a thin-leaf yucca, to those of the thick-leaf banana yucca. We know that these flowers were eaten thousands of years ago because unusually large amounts of yucca pollen have been found in some dried human feces collected from Hinds Cave.
Maguey or Agave americana is a native plant from Mexico, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world. This drought tolerant plant, also known by the name century plant or American aloe, is neither an aloe nor a cactus, but pertains to the Agavaceae family. The unique architectural Agave is one of the best xeriscape plants for your garden.
Maguey Plant is one of the many species of agave plants (commonly called cactus) that exist in the Americas. They grow in semi-arid environments from sea level to an altitude of about 9000 feet.
Above, is one of the largest Agave Americana Plants, Maguey Plant or Century Plants in the world. (photo courtesy of statesman.com)
In ancient Mesoamerica, (Middle America), maguey or agave, was first collected and then cultivated for many uses. Native people used the agave leaves to make ropes, construction materials and textiles. See the picture below of Agave felgeri, also called Mescalito. Mescalito is native to Mexico and is found in many desert gardens especially in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.
Ancient Mayans used Agave thorns in bloodletting rituals, Royal Maya Blood Sacrifices, to communicate with the gods. However, the most important product the Mayans obtained from maguey, agave, was a mildly alcoholic beverage called pulque, obtained by the fermentation of the sweet, milky juice extracted from the agave plant.
Agave americana(aka Century Plant) is a massive plant. There are many varieties of agave in cultivation, with some being excellent for smaller gardens or pots, and some being too large; therefore used for botanical gardens or ranches.
Agaves are called century plants since some species take 100 years to flower in the wild. However, in cultivation with adequate summer moisture, most agaves flower between 10 and 15 years of age. When they do flower, the tall bloom stalks attract many hummingbirds!
Agave americana grows wild in Europe, India, Australia and South Africa. It has become naturalized in many areas such as California. In southern California there are massive plantings of Agave american, Century Plants, along the highways. This Century Plant, Agave american, is a common species of agave that is beautiful but very aggressive. Many gardens in California and Mexico use Agave americana as a living fence.
When Century plants or other agave cactus are grown in pots, they will grow to the size of the container. Please note that containerized century plants must be brought indoors when temperatures drop below freezing. Below is one of our agaves growing in a pot next to other cacti. Two Maguey, Agave americanas are in the top right of the picture below.
Many have asked – Is the Red Bird of Paradise plant toxic?
All 3 of the bird of paradise flowering bushes are poisonous.
The orange and yellow flowers of the Caesalpinia pulcherrima, make a stunning bush.
The true Mexican Bird of Paradise tree has yellow flowers and round leaves.
The Yellow Bird of paradise plant has clusters of yellowflowers with a long red stamen.
All of these beautiful desert bushes belong to the genus Caesalpinia. But DO NOT eat any part of the 3 Bird of Paradise plants.
Caesalpinia is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family, FABACEAE. The fruit of these Bird of Paradise desert bushes is a long, flat seed pod.
The seed pods are toxic! Watch small children and pets around these shrubs.
The level of toxicity for the bird of paradise plants is low. The leaves contain hydrocyanic acid. The toxins in the bean pods are tannins. The role of tannins in many species of plants is to protect it from predators.
Ingesting any part of bird of paradise plants can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are symptoms of bird of paradise poisoning.
While the Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise’s toxins are not life-threatening; keep in mind that diarrhea and vomiting can produce dehydration. These symptoms should be taken seriously and you should seek medical treatment.
While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson. The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.
The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.
After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!
A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.
In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.
The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!
The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night. During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and honeybees pollinate them.
Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.
The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall; reaching heights of 50 feet. The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.
Define drought tolerant. What is a drought resistant plant? Here is the difference between drought tolerant (true desert plant) and drought resistant (originated in semi-arid places).
A flower or plant that has naturally evolved to survive periods of drought with little water and has the ability to tolerate substantial dehydration of their tissues and organs is drought tolerant. Xerophytes are the BEST drought tolerant plants, shrubs, trees, and cacti.
Cacti and many plants survive on little water and make Xeriscape not only essential but pleasing to the eye. Derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning “dry” and combined with landscape, xeriscape means gardening with less than average water.
Many xerophyte plants have specialized tissues for storing water, as in the stems of cacti and the leaves of succulents. Others have thin, narrow leaves, or even spines, for minimizing water loss. Xerophyte leaves often have abundant stomata to maximize gas exchange during periods in which water is available, and the stomata are recessed in depressions, which are covered with fine hairs to help trap moisture in the air.
Drought tolerant plants have adapted by making use of either C4 Carbon Fixation or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions.
In a plant using full CAM, the stomata, in the leaves, remain shut during the day to reduce the loss of water as vapor, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored and then used during photosynthesis, which is the process of capturing the suns energy.
CAM is particularly good for arid conditions because CO2 can be absorbed at night, allowing the pores on the leaves to stay closed during the day and thus reducing water loss. A easy way to explain it is drought tolerant plants can slow down metabolism.
High elasticity of the cytoplasm and the capacity to withstand compression of the cells during dehydration are characteristic of drought-tolerant plants. What is cytoplasm? An easy definition of cytoplasm is a gel-like casing, covering – containing all the contents of the cell’s organisms, except the nucleus. Most metabolic (chemical reactions) pathways occur in the cytoplasm.
Not to be confused with drought-tolerant plants, Drought Resistant plants are not true desert plants. Many have originated in semi-arid regions, the area around the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Sahara.
Here are pictures of drought resistant plants that are not native desert plants.
Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.
This plant has it all: Drought resistant, it looks great, it smells wonderful, and it’s as tough as nails (as long as it’s not too wet). Lavender is in the mint family and originated in the Old World around the Canary Islands, Africa, India, and Asia.
Not only does yarrow tolerate heat and drought like a champion, but this easy-growing perennial is also a great cut flower. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, originated in regions of Asia and Europe.
There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.
The flowers on the Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise bushes are thriving in the sweltering heat. Vivid energetic colors of this drought tolerant shrub are sure to catch the eye of any passer-by.
This is one of our favorite desert shrubs we recommend to people who want flowering plants that are perennial (you need to plant them only once), hardy, low care, and drought resistant.
With an abundance of fern-like leaves these delightful shrubs can add a tropical perspective to any desert landscape!
Pruning your Red Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima , should be in late winter or early spring. Use a sharp pair of garden shears. Our Bird of Paradise bushes are pruned about 16 inches from ground level.
Caesalpinia gilliesii, Yellow Bird of Paradise or sometimes called “Desert Bird of Paradise” is a shrub that has been naturalized in Texas.
The signature long red stamens adorn the clusters of charming yellow flowers. Originally from Argentina, this Yellow Bird of Paradise upright shrub is very fast growing.
This long-lived, drought tolerant plant is very durable along with cold and heat tolerant. Exposure to full sun is best! All parts of the bird of paradise plants are toxic. Yellow Bird of Paradise can grow to the height of 10 ft.
Plant your Bird of Paradise in full sun locations. These bushes do fine in any well-drained soil including rocky, native soils.
In the Spring, prune to remove dead or damaged stems. In the summer water your Yellow Bird of Paradise every week. Water it deeply to stimulate a long taproot. Once established the Yellow Bird of Paradise will need less water.
These desert favorites are easy to find, inexpensive, and provide exciting color over and over throughout the year. All Bird of Paradise plants are winners for your Arizona or desert landscape!
The Red Bird of Paradise is a fast grower, and will get large! It is hardy and does well in any soil; but, the better drainage you have the healthier the plant will be.
Bird of Paradise plants look bare during the winter but they always come back strong and healthy! The seeds and bean pods are poisonous so be careful your children and pets don’t eat them.
Red Bird of Paradise is very hardy and drought tolerant once the taproot is established. With a little mulch at the base, they come back year after year.
Many people refer to this red and orange desert bush as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana). The actual Mexican Bird of Paradise has all yellow flowersand is larger.
Being native to Mexico, Caesalpinia Mexicana is the real Mexican Bird of Paradise. It is larger with ROUND leaves and can be pruned into a small tree.