By Ralph E. Mitchell
Blooms at this time of year catch the eye and draw you to a passing landscape. I have been seeing powderpuff shrubs in bloom with their puffy pink to red flowers punctuating the green background foliage like exploding rubies. This hardy group of plants offers an easy-to-manage shrub which flowers on and off all year. The powderpuff is a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ recommended plant that you might like to include in your landscape.
There are a couple of powderpuff species in our area that are similar, but different. Whether you select Calliandra haematocephala which has large red/pink puffs up to three inches wide, one called Calliandra surinamensis also known as the pink powderpuff, or Calliandra emarginata, the dwarf powderpuff, a shorter variety with red flowers, they all have evergreen compound leaves and flowerheads that start life looking like red raspberries. These buds open up into a ball of colorful stamens which form the visible flower. While you can expect flowers all year long to some degree, some species bloom best in the fall and winter. The flowers do attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, so be prepared for a show!
Plant powderpuff shrubs in a full sun to part shade location. They are very drought tolerant once established, but are not very salt tolerant, so plan before you plant. The ultimate size of this shrub is rarely over twelve feet, but it can easily be pruned to size. Dwarf varieties naturally grow to about five feet tall without pruning. Pinching leads to more compact growth and more flowers. Powderpuff shrubs can be pruned into a small tree-form if desired, but most often an individual specimen shrub makes a fine landscape feature. I have also seen nice hedges made from powderpuff shrubs when kept at five to six-feet tall. Also consider that they can be maintained in large pots for a deck or patio display. Powderpuff shrubs are truly hardy in our area and will take the normal lows experienced in hardiness zone 9b.
Powderpuff shrubs will produce bean-shaped seed pods which can be used for propagation. For best results, soak the seed contained in these pods before planting. Cuttings can also be easily rooted. A few minor pests to look out for are aphids, spider mites and thorn bugs. The thorn bugs may hide in plain site as they look just like a part of the branch until you look closer.
One last item to mention is that in addition to the pink and red flowers, there is a white cultivar called ‘White’ or ‘Alba’ which has beautiful puffy white blooms. There is also a dwarf cultivar of Calliandra haematocephala called ‘Nana’ with pink/red flowers. No matter which powderpuff you chose, you will not be disappointed. Take a look around for one today and you will want one in your own landscape tomorrow! For more information on all types of flowering shrubs suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com.
Gilman, E. F. &Watson, G. D. (2014) Calliandra haematocephala: Powderpuff. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. &Watson, G. D. (2014) Calliandra surinamensis: Pink Powderpuff. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Calliandra emarginata, the dwarf powderpuff – (2019) UNF Landscape – Plants of the UNF Campus.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services.
Calliandra haematocephala: (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a493
Florida Gardener (2008) – Plant of the Month – Powderpuff – http://www.floridagardener.com/pom/powderpuff.htm.
Landre, C. (2019) Dwarf Powderpuff – Calliandra emarginata https://www.south-florida-plant-guide.com/dwarf-powderpuff.html
F.W. Mead , Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry; & Fasulo, T. R. (2017) Featured Creatures – Thorn bug. University of Florida, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. (1999) Calliandra haematocephala ‘Nana’. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.