x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Plant library: Delonix regia

The flame tree's open form and delicate foliage might be even more attractive than its brilliant flowers.

The flame tree, native to the forests of Madagascar, will now be in   bloom in coastal areas of the UAE.
The flame tree, native to the forests of Madagascar, will now be in bloom in coastal areas of the UAE.

Flame tree, royal poinciana, flamboyant

By the time you read this profile, most Delonix planted in coastal areas where humidity is higher should be in bloom and the reason for its various common names and popularity as an ornamental specimen should be self-evident.

If anything, however, I find the open, spreading form of this tree and delicate, fern-like foliage even more attractive than its brilliant vermilion flowers. A yellow-flowered variety, delonix regia var. flavida, also exists but is uncommon in the UAE.

Delonix is commonly used as a shade tree in parks and gardens but should not be planted in areas near parked cars because its brittle branches have a tendency to snap.

Semi-deciduous, Delonix will also lose most of its foliage at the end of each winter in the period immediately prior to flowering. However, this only serves to highlight its floral display. It also has shallow, spreading roots, which makes it difficult to grow very much underneath.

Delonix is widely available in cultivation but is now rare in its native habitat, the dry deciduous forests of Madagascar. It is best propagated from seed that has been scarified and soaked in hot water before planting.

An early version of this story was incorrectly illustrated with a picture of the Australian native tree Brachychiton acerifolius, commonly known as the Illawarra Flame Tree. The image should have been Delonix regia, which also has the common name Flame Tree.