|Flamboyant tree at Caneel Bay, St. John|
|Pride of Barbados flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)|
The Caesalpinia pulcherrima was rechristened Dwarf Poinciana, but is more widely known in the Caribbean as the Pride of Barbados.
On St. Thomas, the abundance of flamboyant trees is reportedly due to the enthusiasm of a particular fan, Ariel Melchior, Sr., who was the founder of the Virgin Islands Daily News. The story is that he loved these trees so much that in 1947 he paid local children to collect the seeds. Then he hired his friend Jack Monsanto, who owned a plane and ran an air taxi business, to fly low over St. Thomas and scatter the seeds.
The seed pods are green at first, then become hard and dark brown, up to two feet long. The seeds inside are loose and make a rattling sound when you shake them, so the pods can be used as musical percussion instruments, locally called shack-shacks.
Flamboyant trees do create a lovely, dense canopy in the summer, providing shade for yards and walkways. Things are quite different in the winter months, however. Even though the trees are generally drought-resistant, they are deciduous, regularly shedding their leaves. The bare branches are much less attractive, with only the brown pods still hanging on them.
In the yard, flamboyant trees are also able to keep other plants from growing close to them, so the areas near them and the ground below them also will be bare. The roots can be a problem, too, as they extend quite far horizontally along the ground, and are able to create cracks in sidewalks or other structures, possibly even cisterns.
Flamboyant trees generally only live about 30 years, but there is no question that they put on a fabulous summer show while they last.