BY CHUCK MALLOY President, Association Member, Palm Society of South Texas
Wow! That’s a hummingbird tree? The flower looks like a flamingo beak! But from the side it looks like a hummingbird! My photo shows three blooms together. The flower is about three and a half inches long, lasts several days, and develops a long bean pod.
Native from Malaysia to North Australia, this tree is tropical, thirsts for water, and thrives in full sun. It will even accept standing water for a while. It’s not picky about acidic or alkaline soils. Seeds germinate in one to two days and grow fast. I planted my first tree last July. It was about a foot tall and by fall it was 7 feet tall and flowered! A year later it’s about 12 feet tall. In the winters here in the Rio Grande Valley, the tree will defoliate. It’s not cold tolerant and will freeze back. . If we do not have a freeze the defoliated tree will come back the following spring. Bottom line: good soil, hot and humid temperatures.
The good thing is that if planted early, the first year it will provide flowers and seeds so you can replenish next year. This is a short-lived tree so if you have the space, plant several in different growth stages and collect the seeds for replacements. The hummingbird tree has sparse foliage and is airy. When the seeds are ready, the beans turn brown and the seeds will rattle inside. I planted my tree on the west bank of my Resaca and it receives morning sun until noon and then filtered sun the rest of the day. It has handled the continuous southeast wind and is salt tolerant. If it goes a day or two without water, it will droop in the heat. It is unlikely that you could overwater this tree. In “optimum” conditions, this tree could grow to 30’ tall and 10’ wide.
The root, leaf, bark, and flower all have medicinal properties. The red bloom is bitter to the taste. The white blossom is recommended for eating. In Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, the white flowers, young bean pods, and leaves are cooked and eaten as vegetables.
In Asia, the wood is used like bamboo for light construction. It is also used for reforestation efforts and as a shade plant for coconut seedlings. It readily grows around drainage ditches and fence lines. Wouldn’t this be a refreshing sight over all the arundo (carrizo cane) that is so invasive? For us here in the Rio Grande Valley the tree’s primary use would be ornamental with the added feature of attracting birds and insects.
SOURCES: Wikipedia and personal
As of this date, I have 23 of these trees growing in 2-3 gallon pots at 2’ tall. They will be offered for sale at the Cameron County Master Gardener Association Fall Plant Expo on October 8, 2016 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The location will be at the County Building, 1390 West Expressway 83, San Benito.