Monday, August 5, 2013
Mexican Bird of Paradise
Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) lights up the Valley in mid-summer with flaming orange flowers. These plants in the Bean family (Fabaceae) have been part of world wide horticultural trade for so long that no one knows exactly where the first wild populations were discovered. Medicine men in Suriname have been using the plant for centuries, so this may be a clue to its origins. It is also the national flower of Barbados, and displayed on the royal flag there, another clue to its native roots.
In the Phoenix area, Mexican Bird of Paradise provides welcome relief in the sometimes drab urban landscape, thriving along highways and industrial areas wherever there is a reliable drip system. Hummingbirds, carpenter bees and honeybees are frequent visitors to the flowers, serving as pollinators. The resulting bean pods produce hard seeds that are toxic enough to induce abortion in early term pregnancy, which was sometimes advised by the aforementioned South American medicine men.