Easy Desert Plant: Red Bird of Paradise

Red Bird of Paradise
Anne Reeves / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The Red Bird of Paradise is one of several desert plants recommended for people who want plants that are perennial (you need to plant them only once). They're also extremely hardy, low care, drought resistant, affordable, and provide lovely color many times during the year. They thrive in the USDA Zone 9, where Phoenix is located, as well as other desert climate areas, including New Mexico.

How to Take Care of Red Bird of Paradise Plants

The botanical name for Red Bird of Paradise is Caesalpinia pulcherrima. In the Phoenix area, many people refer to this red and orange version as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana), which actually has all yellow flowers. The Red Bird of Paradise is an evergreen shrub that enjoys full sun and has bright yellow flowers, with orange and red centers that grow out of long, thin stalks. The leaves are fern-looking. The Red Bird of Paradise is a fairly fast grower, and can get large—6 or 8 feet tall—so periodic trimming is suggested. The Red Bird of Paradise will do well in any soil, but the better drainage you have the healthier the plant will be. It's best to cut them in the winter, since they don't take the frosty nights well, but they always come back strong and healthy. They have a tendency to self-sow, so watch for any unwanted seedlings that start to grow. Note: The seeds and pods may be poisonous so don't let children put them in their mouths.

Where to See Red Bird of Paradise Plants

If you're visiting Phoenix and are interested in seeing the Red Bird of Paradise as well as other native plants, check out the city's beautiful Desert Botanical Garden. Open since 1939, the 50-acre area includes a garden, hiking trails, and a museum to explore as well as a treasure trove of annual events, educational programs, and exhibits. The garden itself is home to more than 21,000 plants, representing 3,931 plant classifications in 139 plant families. You can see them by walking one of the five main trails. Don't miss the Desert Discovery Trail (featuring cacti and succulents from around the world), Sonoran Desert Trail, and the Desert Wildflower Trail (with hummingbirds and colorful blooms). There's also the Kitchell Heritage Garden and the very popular Butterfly Pavilion.

If you'd like to get a tour, sign up for the general garden tour or opt for the Birds in the Garden tour with an expert birder. In the summer, you can join a flashlight walking tour at night to see the nocturnal plants and animals. As for annual events, in February through June, you can enjoy live music from local bands on Friday nights, and come winter, the Desert Botanical Garden puts on Las Noches de las Luminarias, where the trails are lit up for the holiday festivities.

Special exhibits have included Chihuly glass structures placed around the garden and lit up for spectacular night viewings. Coming up from October 2018 to May 2019, there's the Electric Desert sound and light experience. It will feature seven site-specific art installations, which provide an immersive tour using projections and original music.