What's Blooming April 18-24: Shaving-Brush Tree

Shaving-Brush Tree (hibiscus family, formerly bombax family)
Pseudobombax ellipticum (Malvaceae, formerly Bombacaceae)
Origin: Mexico

One of the stranger blooming trees in existance, the Pseudobombax is a short one.  Mature trees of this type theoretically reach fifty feet tall but rarely top thirty. Often, through cultural or environmental stress, the trees are kept as a caudiciform, looking like a giant tortoise shell. The leaves are enormous and beautiful, emerging first as a brilliant blood-red, then a dull maroon and finally deep green.  But the tree is not generally grown for its leaves. It’s all about the Doctor-Seuss style flowers.

Many of the plants recently featured here have been seasonally dry blooming trees, and the Pseudobombax is no exception.  Sarasota has dry winters and relatively dry springs, followed by drenching rains all summer. This is why these types of trees do so well in our city; and why they are all blooming right now.  Throughout the winter, as the ground and the atmosphere get dryer and dryer, the trees drop all their leaves. At the end of the dry season, dormant buds are triggered and new growth emerges, in this case flower buds, followed by leaves and fruits. This way the seed is disbursed out into the world during the rainy season. It is because of this natural response to periods of drought that these trees bloom more profusely when not irrigated.

The blooms of the Shaving-Brush Tree live up to their name, certainly.  The 4-inch long bright magenta stamens, are so profuse that the flower really does look like a delicate, psychedelic shaving brush. But the show is a quick one, and soon the base of the tree is littered with what looks to be pink troll-doll hair. There is a beautiful white form as well. 

Text by David Troxell