THE HOW DO GARDENER: Two plants that can take the summer heat

By RICK BICKLING

Bird of Paradise is a hearty plant to endure Central Texas summer heat. (Photo by Rick Bickling)

The extremely hot and dry summers of the past few years, along with the accompanying water restrictions, have made finding plants that not only survive but thrive the never ending quest of gardeners here in Central Texas. Let’s take a look at two plants that really fit the bill.

Tecoma stans, also known as Yellow bells, Yellowbells, Esperanza (Spanish for “hope”), Yellow trumpetbush, Yellow trumpetflower, Trumpetbush, Trumpetflower, Yellow elder, or Ginger-thomas is a member of the Bignoniaceae (Trumpet-Creeper Family).

It is native to the Southwest United States, and Florida with a natural range that includes the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and extends into Mexico, Central America, and South America as far as Northern Argentina. Tecoma stans is the official flower of the United States Virgin Islands and the national flower of The Bahamas.

It is an irregularly shaped flowering perennial shrub that grows to 3 – 6’ in height. It has several stems and slender, erect branches with sharp-toothed, lance-shaped, olive-green leaves. From April through November, Tecoma stans produces large clusters of bright yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers that are 3-5” in length. These showy blooms are the source of many of the plant’s common names and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Tecoma stans grows best in well drained rocky, limestone, sand, and loam soils. It thrives in the heat, is extremely drought tolerant, has low water usage requirements, and prefers dry soil conditions. It tolerates cold within its natural range, but even in these southern areas, harsh winters will cause it to die back to the ground. It can be grown in more northern areas but should be treated as an annual, or used as a potted specimen.

Having become a popular landscape plant in recent years, Tecoma stans contributes to the growing trend of using native plants in both commercial and residential landscapes. Its beautiful appearance, along with its drought-tolerance, showcase the best that native plants have to offer.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly known as Mexican Bird of Paradise, Red Bird of Paradise, Pride of Barbados, Peacock Flower, Dwarf Flamboyan, Caesalpinia, flamboyant-de-jardin, and Dwarf Poinciana, is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae).

The Red Bird of Paradise is the national flower of the Caribbean island of Barbados, and is depicted on the Queen’s Personal Barbadian Flag, which Queen Elizabeth II uses in her role as Queen of Barbados.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima is native to the West Indies but was introduced to, and is commonly found in, Texas, Arizona, California, and Florida. It is adapted to USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 – 11. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and thrives in extreme heat. It is tolerant of both alkaline and acidic soils as long as they are well drained. It is considered drought tolerant once established but does best with regular irrigation once a week.

In frost-free climates it is an evergreen tree or small shrub that grows to 3-10’ in height and width. It is damaged at 32°F and killed to the ground at 17°F so it typically grows as a deciduous shrub in zone 9, and a returning perennial in zone 8. In the topics it can reach heights of 15-20’. In most other zones, Caesalpinia pulcherrima can be grown as an annual, or potted and grown indoors as long as its light and moisture requirements are met.

Its leaves are fern-like with many ¾” leaflets. They are a bright green in the summer but turn red in the winter until killed back. The species name, pulcherrima, is Latin for “most beautiful.” Perhaps the most distinctive visual feature of this plant, that really lives up to it’s name, are its bright red, orange, and yellow flowers with long red stamens that are found on terminal ends of branches. They bloom profusely in the hot summer months and are an excellent draw for butterflies.

If you are looking for a shrub that is heat loving and drought tolerant, or maybe you just want a unique specimen to show off in your yard or garden, give these beauties a try.

Rick Bickling is a certified Master Gardener in Williamson County. He has been designing, planting and maintaining landscapes and gardens for more than 30 years. 

Visit www.howdogardener.com  or reach Rick by email at howdogardener@LHIndependent.com.