Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

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Pink Powderpuff

White form of Calliandra haematocephala

Calliandra haematocephala.

What a mouthful. It has a nice rhythmic flow to it but be careful, you could bite your tongue saying it too fast.

The name Calliandra is Greek for beautiful stamens, and haematocephala translates as 'blood head'. Hmm, I presume it's a reference to the reddish flower heads.

Anyway it's a rather elegant, softly-rounded shrub or small tree from Bolivia which is usually called the powderpuff bush because of its hot-pink, fluffy pompom flowers.

In the wild it is blood-red but in cultivation there seems to be a range of colours including red, pink and white. In general they flower right through the Winter months. But I'm finding that one of the pink forms flowers through Spring, Summer and Autumn, finishing just as the deeper pink and white ones start flowering in June.

Other Calliandras have been grown here for years, but have a tendency to be rather unattractively twiggy and dry-looking after a while.

The bright scarlet Calliandra tweedii from Mexico is one of these and another very leggy one with big white tassles is also available here.

But Calliandra haematocephala is my favourite.

It is more lush with bigger, brighter flowers, bigger leaves and a more arching, graceful form, growing up to three or four metres if left un-pruned.

I prune mine back when the flowers stop, which is around June for the Summer-flowering one and November for the others, to stimulate new and bushier growth.

In the warmer parts of Australia you see this pink form everywhere, where it seems to flower all year. It's a great favourite of the rainbow lorikeets who swarm greedily through the new flowers every morning, slurping on the abundant nectar. Here it's the wax-eyes and occasionally a wintering bellbird. I guess once the local tuis and rosellas learn to recognise it they'll get into the act too.

Like pohutukawa, the flowers have lots of nectar and long stamens specifically for bird pollination.

The bright pink flower buds look intriguingly like raspberries, and new buds keep developing from the same flower spurs throughout the flowering season so that as one pink pompom collapses another one is opening in its place.

The powderpuff needs full sun, shelter from frost and wind, as well as good drainage to do well.

The foliage of these tropical-looking shrubs is a feathery deep green but the new leaves emerge in shades of coppery pink, turning green as they reach full size. The ferny soft texture of the powderpuff's foliage makes a striking contrast with the bolder shiny leaves of other tropicals such as Cordylines, gingers and Taros.

If you want to attract birds to the garden as well as providing bright colour and strong textural contrasts, this lovely, easily-managed shrub could be just the ticket.

And imagine how impressive it would be to speak a little Greek to your neighbour by telling him what beautiful stamens he has or if he's a red-headed fella, perhaps you could try calling him a haematocephala.

The mind boggles.

(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)