Calliandra haematocephala

Family : Leguminosae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


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Calliandra heamatocephala is a very ramified evergreen of the Bolivian savannahs, that reaches, at low and medium altitudes, the height of 3-4 m © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Bolivia where it grows in the savannahs at low and medium altitudes.

The generic name is the combination of the Greek substantives “κάλλος” (kallos) = beauty and “ἀνήρ, ἀνδρός” (anér, andrós) = man, male, with reference to the showy stamina; the specific name is the combination of the Greek substantives “αἷμα, -τος” (haima, -tos) = blood and “κεφαλή” (cephalé) = head, due to the colour of the inflorescence.

Common names: powderpuff-tree, red powder-puff (English); arbre aux houpettes (French); bellota (Spanish).

The Calliandra haematocephala Hassk. (1855) is a shrub or small evergreen tree very ramified, 3-4 m tall, with wrinkled brown bark and long, thin and arcuate young branches.

The leaves, on a 1,5-3 cm long petiole, are alternate, bipinnate, formed by two paripinnate leaves, 10-22 cm long, with 5-8 pairs of subsessile leaflets lanceolate obliquely with sparse and short down at the margins, 2-7 cm long and 1,5-3 cm broad, of increasing length towards the apex, of intense green colour; the young leaves are copper-coloured.

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The pyrotechnical inflorescences are normally scarlet, but seen the huge horticultural interest even a variety ’Alba’ has been selected © Giuseppe Mazza

The flowers, on a 2-4,5 cm long peduncle, are axillar capitula, solitary, hemispherical, of 8-10 cm of diameter, formed by a crowd of sessile flowers very close each other, with campanulate calyx, about 2 mm long, purple tubular corolla with 5 lobes, about 8 mm long, several bright red stamina, about 4 cm long, and slightly longer style; a variety ’Alba’ exists, with white stamina, and one ’Nana’, of reduced dimensions.

The fruit is a linear legume, 6-14 cm long, dehiscent in explosive way, initially green, then brown when ripe, containing up to 5 oblong, flat seeds, about 8 mm long and 4 mm broad.

It reproduces by seed, previously scarified and kept in water for two days, in fertile draining loam maintained humid, but without stagnations, at the temperature of 24-26 °C, wit germination times of 1-4 weeks, and by semi-woody cutting in summer or tip-cutting in spring.

Species with decorative foliage and showy blooming that continues over almost the whole year, with a peak from autumn to spring, relatively fast growing, can be cultivated as isolated specimen or for espaliers in the parks and gardens, even if of modest size, of the tropical, subtropical and marginally warm temperate climate zones, where temperatures of a few degrees under the 0 °C are short lasting exceptions.

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Born for the tropics, sporadically resists to 0 °C in the warm temperate climates and adapts to life in pot, also as bonsai. Proved medicinal virtues © Giuseppe Mazza

It requires full sun or, at most, a light shade and is not particular about the soil, even if rather poor, provided draining, slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, but grows best in the sandy and fertile ones. The waterings must be regular and abundant, especially in correspondence with high temperatures, even if well rooted plants can resist to dry periods, but to the detriment of the blooming, and the fertilizations, in spring summer, done preferably with a balanced product with microelements. Frequent prunings help in maitaining a compact posture.

Cultivable also in pot in draining organic loam, in particular the variety ’Nana’, for the decoration of open spaces, greenhouses or luminous verandahs, or to be sheltered during the coldest months in a protected ambient where the climate does not allow the continuity in open air, with lowest temperature values preferably not under the 15 °C. Finally, it is an excellent subject for bonsai.

Laboratory studies have shown in the extracts of the plant the presence of bioactive compounds with gastroprotective and antiulcerogenic effects of possible interest in the official pharmacopoeia.

Synonyms: Feuilleea haematocephala (Hassk.) Kuntze (1891); Calliandra inaequilatera Rusby (1896); Calliandra novaesii Hoehne (1918); Anneslia haematocephala (Hassk.) Britton & P. Wilson (1926).


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