Pseudobombax Ellipticum: The Shaving Bush tree is drought tolerant once established

Several weeks ago I noticed a most unusual sight as I drove down 25th street past the duplexes that border the turn to Treasure Hills School. There, on my left, was a bare tree with puffs of white scattered all over it. My first thought was that someone had wrapped that house and tree and these puffs were the residue, but a closer look proved that was not the case. That leafless, tall, bushy tree was covered with fluffy white flowers! But, what kind of tree WAS it?

I thought about that tree every time I drove past it to run an errand. I asked some of my gardener friends if they knew what it was, but I really couldn’t describe it very well and no one had any idea. It drove me crazy! Finally the answer came to me from Frances, my friend in Lyford who grows those gorgeous orchids. One day she sent a few close up pictures and a note to my phone and said that her Shaving Brush Tree was in bloom. There was my answer!

The Shaving Brush tree, also known as an Amapolla tree, is native to Southern Mexico and Central America. It’s grown here in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas (as far north as Houston). Articles I read recommended it for zones 9b – 11, and said the tree can survive temperatures in the high 20’s for very short periods of time but is best protected if temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Certainly those in Houston are grown in pots.

Planted in good soil and fed and watered with some regularity, the tree can reach 50 -70 feet in height. Potted and kept trimmed in its pot, the tree will develop a caudex that is marked like a turtle shell. The more the potted tree is pruned, the larger the caudex will grow. Left alone in frost free locations, the tree will spread wide rather than grow tall. It’ a fast grower and is drought tolerant once established and thus suitable for xeriscaping. It likes full to partial sun.

The Pseudobombax Ellipticum (Shaving Brush is SO much easier to say) is deciduous. The fact that it loses its leaves in the winter and blooms before the leaves sprout explains the phenomenon I witnessed early in March. Cigarlike buds develop into pompoms and the tree flowers for several weeks. The flowers are either white or a neon hot pink and do resemble the shaving brushes that gave the tree its nickname.

After flowering, it will leaf out and that is the time to trim it.

The new leaves are a rich red that fades to orange and bronze and finally settles into a deep green. The leaves are large and the tree provides good shade.

Often the trunk has a tortoise shell texture in bright green. If the tree is pollinated, seed pods will develop during the summer. The seeds are cushioned by a cotton fluff inside the pod. If there are no pods, the tree can be propagated from woody stem cuttings. If you’re not interested in doing it yourself, Tammy and Lily Caldwell at Caldwell Jungle Nursery in Raymondville have propagated some for you from those growing on their property. Tammy even sent pictures – looks like they’ve got about a dozen and some pink ones for sure. One source called the Pseudobombax Ellipticum “a spectacular heat-loving tree” so I’m keeping an eye on it to see what it will do next.

SOURCES: www.davesgarden.com Wikipedia PHOTOS: Frances Krnavek and Tammy Caldwell