Friday Flowers: Powderpuff Tree

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This powderpuff was photographed in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. UF/IFAS.

Powderpuff tree is a reliable magnet for hummingbirds, and easy to grow.  Its main attraction are flowers that appear in late fall and persist into the winter, giving it the South Florida nickname of “snowbird tree.”

Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is native to Bolivia, but has been cultivated widely. It is evergreen, with fine, delicate foliage that starts a copper color before maturing to dark green. When flower buds appear, they resemble raspberries, before expanding into puffs of silky stamens. Typically red (“haematocephala” refers to blood), there are some powderpuffs with watermelon-pink and even white flowers.

Trained as a tree, it has an arching, graceful habit, creating a canopy suitable for patios and even containers. It’s easily kept to a desired size with hand pruning.

Powderpuff can be grown as a large shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. In zone 9, frost can kill it back, but shoots will appear from the base in spring. With rapid growth in sandy soils and full sun, powderpuff will respond favorably to regular watering while young but should require no special care once established. Once established, it’s drought tolerant, but has also been reported to survive the occasional standing water from heavy rain as well.

For gardeners who miss their beautiful-but-invasive mimosa trees, powderpuff is an ideal alternative. It has been evaluated using the UF/IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and is not considered a problem species.

There is (of course) a popular dwarf cultivar, Calliandra haematocephala ‘Nana’. While it doesn’t flower quite as spectacularly as the larger powderpuff, it does flower year-round.