Flame tree is a colorful tree native to Madagascar. It grows in tropical climates where it is deciduous if there is a marked "dry season" and evergreen in areas with steady average rainfall. The tree bears several imaginative names such as peacock flower, flamboyant tree and royal poinciana. Flame tree bears large flat brown pods filled with seed. The plant is easy to germinate after treatments but takes up to 10 years to flower. Most propagation is done by the much quicker tip cutting method.
Flame Tree Identification
Flame tree is an elegant leaved medium-sized tree. It can grow from 30 to 40 feet in height and grows in a natural umbrella shape. The leaves are delicate and fern-like, alternating slim leaflets along a main stem. In spring and summer the tree bursts into color. The flowers of the flame tree are the genesis of the name. They are comprised of four curved petals of scarlet and one upright petal of white or yellow. The fruit is a pod that is 26 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide and hard, brown or black and slightly curved.
Harvest and Treatment of Seed
The long pods should be collected when they are dark in color. This indicates that they are ripe. Normally the pods would open after six months on the tree but you will want to get them before that so the seed is still intact. Dry the pods out in the sun for a month. Force open the seed pods with a knife and collect the seed. The seed will not germinate until it has been scarified just as it would be in nature. You can soak them in sulfuric acid or use sandpaper and manually scratch the surface of the seed.
Planting and Germination
Soak the seed in water for a day before planting. This will help soften the exterior of the seed and enhance germination. Flame tree grows in moist humic rich soil which should be mimicked for seed starting medium. You can purchase a seed starter mix or make a mixture of potting soil, peat, compost and a small amount of sand or grit for drainage. The seed is sown 1/2 as deep as it is long into the mixture. Mist the container well and keep plastic wrap or a lid on the flat. The seed will germinate best on a heat mat and the ambient temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination will take place within nine weeks.
Culture and Use
Flame tree is tolerant of salt spray and is useful in coastal regions as a shade and ornamental tree. It has large shallow roots that can do serious damage to masonry and cement so it is not recommended for sidewalks or as a foundation tree. The new seedlings can be set out as soon as they have several pairs of true leaves. This is generally in three to four months. The plant will grow approximately 5 feet per year but may not flower until up to 12 years. It is an attractive foliage and shade plant and the wait is worth it.