Aflame in late winter

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The flame vine puts on a show.

Late winter bloomers always are welcome, especially this winter when we seem to be stuck in cold. Flowering in the south parking lot is the red kapok or red silk cotton tree, Bombax ceiba, while the vine pergola is displaying a gorgeous coating of orange, thanks to the flame vine, Pyrostegia venusta. Just the sight of these brilliantly colored flowers will lift your winter spirits.

The silk cotton is a large tree that needs room to grow: it can

Big, waxy flowers on the red
silk cotton tree.

reach 80 to 100 feet in height. (Remember that tree roots are generally three times as long as a tree is tall.) The waxy flowers are similarly proportioned, sometimes reaching nine inches across. The tree generally drops its leaves in winter, flowers and then grows new palmate-shaped leaves in spring.

Tubular flowers on the flame vine are so bright you can hardly ignore them. This South American vine becomes woody, races to cover as much as possible, and then it ignites the landscape with color. Because it is so aggressive, you have to be an aggressive gardener should you plant it, cutting it back hard after the flowers disappear. It will grow in full sun or partial shade and it is not picky about soil types.