Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Real Mexican

Several months ago, I replaced one of my frost-killed Ficus trees with a Mexican native, the Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub (Caesalpinia mexicana.) I intend to train it into a 10 to 15 foot, multi-trunked tree over the course of several years. We’ll need to have moderate winters to do that. Frost won’t kill it, but it will lose its momentum toward tree status, although it will come back in spring. In the summer, it doesn’t matter how hot it gets because the mexicana loves heat, and it is drought tolerant. It has many yellow flower clusters that start in March and last through October. As with most Caesalpinia, it does produce a moderate amount of litter as the seedpods drop and split.

The various species in the Caesalpinia genus can be confusing. Red Bird of Paradise, often called the Mexican Bird of Paradise, is really a different species and its flowers are completely different. Actually, the Mexican Bird of Paradise, especially the flower, more closely resembles the Caesalpinia cacalaco, or Cascalote Tree. Seven species of the Caesalpinia genus do very well in the Phoenix area, but range in frost tolerance from 20˚ to 30˚ depending on the species. So far, I only have the Red and Mexican Birds in my garden, but I'm considering a Cascalote Tree as another Ficus replacement.

Folks into herbal medicine use parts of the Caesalpinia Birds of Paradise for an astringent tea to soothe gastrointestinal distress, or as a poultice to relieve rashes and stings. Haven’t tried it myself and probably won’t. I’m more into Pepto-Bismol and Cortizone-10.


liza9560 said...

Here's a question: When the caesalpinia mexicana does get nipped by frost, should you trim off the nipped growth, or will new growth come out from the damaged wood in Spring? I'd think you'd have to trim it off, but it would be cool if you didn't, as you could keep your height and continue with it the next year instead of having to take inches or feet away...

Aiyana said...

I think it looks better if the dead wood is trimmed. New growth won't come from dead wood. It's best to wait until last frost to see if the wood is actually dead, and if so, you really should trim it back to that point.