Trees: Royal Poinciana will not survive European climates, but Judas is hardy

Question: A friend in Australia is raving about a tree in his son's garden there. He calls it Poinciana. I can't find any reference to it in my vast supply of books (even the plant finder). He says it grows easily from seed, germinating quickly, can you help? My other question is why does my Judas tree (cercis) hang on to the seed pods. They produce masses and they look so ugly! (M Curtis, Bury St Edmunds )

Answer:

The tree your friend has in Australia is a very beautiful tropical tree called Royal Poinciana, which has seed pods very similar to the Judas tree – only much longer, up to 30cm – and are the favourite food of parrots. The tree has wonderful red flowers through the summer. The flowers are similar to Alstromeria. The seeds are easy to grow but they will not survive in the European climate so they will not appear in any of our gardening books. To see Poinciana at its best you need to take a trip to Australia in their summer.

Judas trees are also one of my favourites and best of all they grow well in the UK and are very hardy. Cercis are deciduous shrubs or small trees with heart-shaped leaves and clusters of bright pink pea-flowers opening before or with the leaves, followed by flattened, deep purple pods.

C. siliquastrum is a bushy, deciduous small tree. Leaves to 10cm in width, broadly heart-shaped. Flowers rosy-pink, pea-shaped, in clusters on the older wood. Fruit is a conspicuous flattened purplish pod to 12cm in length. Cercis will also grow easily from seed. The pods will only drop when the new leaves come out after the flowers and the new pods start to form. This is a trait of the Judas tree and I think it is worth living with otherwise you will need to cut the pods off, a not insignificant task.


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