The next time you visit the Cayman MAC Store, Sportista, Workplace Environments or Butterfield in the One Nexus Way building at Camana Bay, take a short stroll across Emeritus Drive ... and have your camera ready. There you'll find in the plant bed that borders the car park, the beautiful pink powderpuff tree, or Calliandra surinamensis, a dapper ornamental specimen usually in the form of a large shrub or trained as a small flowering tree.
The pink powderpuff tree is multi-trunked with a rounded canopy that can be quite dense due to its branching habit. It has elegant, glossy, deep-green leaves and dazzling pink flowers.
Flowering year round in Cayman's climate, the flowers emerge on a spherical head holding the small green petals. On the petals and calyx is a brilliant "powderpuff" of up to 100 stamens. The stamens are white at the base, and hot pink at the top with a slightly sweet fragrance.
Pink powderpuff can grow up to 15 feet in height with a slightly smaller spread, so it is important to give this fast grower plenty of room. It prefers well-draining soil and can even handle soil that is a tad on the sandy side. Desiring a site in full sun, it will tolerate a bit of shade and still flower, just not as heavily. As is true with most plantings in Camana Bay, pink powderpuff is very drought tolerant once established.
Native to northern South America and named scientifically after the country Suriname, it thrives well in the Cayman climate. It is highly pest resistant, responds well to pruning and requires little maintenance, making it an excellent addition to any local landscape.
The flowers are so brilliant, they almost look like they are glowing. However, they can be quite messy and sticky, so it would be wise to place this tree in an area where the spent flowers will not have to be constantly cleaned up.
An interesting fact about Calliandra surinamensis is that it has been and is still being studied for its medicinal properties. Research shows that a lectin that can be isolated from the leaf of pink powderpuff is cytotoxic to some cancer cells and has antimicrobial and antibiofilm activities.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 print issue of Camana Bay Times.
About the author
Shannon Schmidt is a horticulture manager at Dart’s Arboretum Services Ltd. Joining Dart in 2012, Shannon previously worked in parks, public gardens and tourism properties, among others. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Shannon loves island life, spending time paddleboarding around the canals and mangroves, in the sea, and spending time outdoors with her two energetic Boston Terriers Nollie and Ebbie and her equally energetic partner Chase! Shannon holds a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from The Pennsylvania State University and a Diploma in Horticulture from the Longwood Gardens Professional School of Horticulture, and loves spending time swinging in a hammock, with her favourite smoothie from Jessie’s Juice Bar and reading material from Books & Books.