Red Bird of Paradise Plant Profile

Mexican bird of paradise

 

Gregory Clifford / Getty Images  

The red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) a flowering broadleaf evergreen shrub native to tropical and subtropical climates. Unlike many tropical plants, it has a good tolerance for drought, making it a favorite for desert landscapes. These evergreen shrubs feature bright red, orange, and yellow flowers, bowl-shaped and about 2 inches wide, that appear steadily all season long and which attract butterflies and hummingbirds. In Hawaii, the flowers are popular for use in leis. The leaves have long, pointed fronds that are reminiscent of ferns.

Red bird of paradise is extremely tough, easy to care for, and affordable. Also known as pride of barbados or peacock flower, this is a popular shrub for tall hedges and screens in warm climates—zones 9 and higher. They are quite popular in dry southwestern states, including Arizona and New Mexico. These bright and showy shrubs can be grown as a boundary between lawns or around a pool, or to screen a chain-link fence. They also provide great coverage if you want to disguise an air conditioning unit or utility feature.

Botanical Name Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Common Names Red bird of paradise, pride of barbados, peacock flower
Plant Type Perennial flowering shrub
Mature Size 10 to 20 feet tall; 6- to 12-foot spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Any soil, provided it is well drained
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.5
Bloom Time March through October 
Flower Color Red and yellow
Hardiness Zones 9 to 11 (USDA)
Native Area Tropical and subtropical Americas

How to Grow Red Bird of Paradise Plants

Red bird of paradise can be planted in spring (as long as it's after the last frost of the season), summer, and fall. It's a great plant for beginner gardeners, as it does not require much extra care beyond watering and occasional trimming. Plant them in any soil that is well-drained, in a sunny location (they will tolerate part shade, but won't flower as profusely).

Once established, these plants have good tolerance for drought. They can be pruned freely to control their size and shape. Red bird of paradise has almost no serious pest or disease issues. Powdery mildew may appear but does not affect the health of the plant.

Light

The red bird of paradise requires full sun to produce its showy display of blossoms. They will tolerate partially shaded areas but the flowers will be less prolific—maybe even non-existent.

Soil

The red bird of paradise will grow in any soil but prefers loamy, well-drained ground that retains some moisture. They're less likely to flourish when grown in clay.

Water

While becoming established, red bird of paradise shrubs should be kept consistently moist. While established shrubs can survive periods of drought, the red bird of paradise responds favorably to a consistent watering schedule. During the peak growing season, supplemental watering (usually once or twice a week) is advisable to keep the plant's roots and surrounding soil damp. During the dormant winter months, no additional watering is required.

Temperature and Humidity

Red bird of paradise shrubs can tolerate high summer temperatures and they do well in both humid and dry climates. When temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the shrub will begin to lose its leaves and go dormant until it warms up in the springtime. In the northern part of its range (zone 9), the shrub may die back to the ground in winter but will return the following spring.

Fertilizer

While it's not required, most red bird of paradise plants will respond well to a 20-20-20 fertilizer, especially in the early growing stages. Additional applications may be beneficial, but they're not necessary.

Growing in Containers

Red bird of paradise shrubs can be grown in large pots or containers. If you debug the plant by using a soap solution or another method, it's possible to bring your potted red bird of paradise plants inside during the winter months.

Propagating Red Bird of Paradise

These shrubs tend to self-sow, so if you see any surrounding seedlings, you can remove or transplant them to other areas of your yard. If you'd like to start some plants from seed, collect the pods in the fall, remove the seeds, and let them dry inside a paper bag. In the spring, plant the seeds in pots (or directly into the ground), and water them enough to keep the soil moist but not wet.

Compared to Mexican Bird of Paradise

Many people refer to the red bird of paradise as the Mexican bird of paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana), but this is a different plant that displays all yellow flowers. The leaves of the Mexican bird of paradise are larger, yet they retain the same shape as the red bird of paradise. Mexican bird of paradise plants have a shorter blooming season and only flower during the springtime.

Mexican bird of paradise


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Toxicity of Red Bird of Paradise

The seeds and pods of this plant are mildly poisonous and can cause oral irritation or gastrointestinal symptoms if ingested, so keep them away from pets and children. Fatalities are very rare, but if you suspect someone has consumed the seeds, contact poison control immediately. Unless symptoms are very severe, treatment is often limited to drinking lots of water.

Pruning

The red bird of paradise is a fairly fast grower, and can get large—up to 20 feet tall—so periodic trimming is an option depending on what size you'd like your shrub. Red bird of paradise plants are often cut back in the winter since they don't tolerate frost, but they typically come back strong and healthy in the spring.