Few trees in the Cayman Islands can put on a show quite like the royal poinciana, also known by the common names flame tree and flamboyant for its floriferous and fierce appearance.
The Latin name for the royal poinciana is Delonix regia, derived from Delos, meaning obvious; onux, meaning claw (referring to the flower petals); and regia, which means royal. Technically it could add another common name to its list: obvious royal claw flower.
It was given the name poinciana in honor of M. de Poinci, the 17th century governor of the French West Indies, where the tree is also widely used as
an ornamental. However, the royal poinciana tree is actually native to Madagascar.
In its native habitat royal poinciana trees prefer full sun and well-drained soils. They can grow in soil profiles consisting of limestone and are slightly salt tolerant.
Delonix regia can reach heights of 30 to 40 feet tall, with a very broad umbrella-like canopy of 40 to 70 feet, making it an excellent shade tree. In climates similar to Cayman, this tree is deciduous during the dry/drought season over the winter and creeps into a type of dormancy therefore lowering its water requirement. In the springtime, the tree pushes out soft fern-like leaves, followed by a show-stopping display of 3- to 4-inch flowers.
Flowering in late spring to summer, the blooms of the royal poinciana are striking and vary greatly in colour intensity, ranging from orange-vermilion to deep scarlet. There is another variety on Grand Cayman as well, Delonix regia var. flavida, which has yellow flowers.
Royal poinciana flowers consist of four solid-coloured clawed petals and a central banner petal which has white and yellow streaking. The banner petal acts as a nectar guide to pollinators of the royal poinciana, which consist of a variety of moths, butterflies and bees.
After it completes its flowering cycle, the tree produces massive bean-like fruit pods up to 24 inches long. These pods make this tree an all-season ornamental, giving it winter interest as the pods hang from the branches and the seeds chatter inside the pod when the wind blows. Some cultures use the seed pods for musical instruments and the seeds for making jewellry. Other uses include firewood, wood ware and gum.