Small Trees but Big Show
Hibiscus Tree (Fijii)

Small Trees but Big Show

Mike Malloy

Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinina pulcherrima)

Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinina pulcherrima)

For all of us who want to have one of the showiest trees in town in our gardens (Royal Poinciana) and just don’t have the room because of their size, here are some of my favorite small trees that can be grown in courtyards, containers and small yards here in Southwest Florida. They also can be as special as the big boys.

Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinina pulcherrima): This is the little brother to the Royal Poinciana but a much smaller size. This evergreen shrub can be pruned and trained into a specimen small tree, usually about 10-12 feet in height but can grow up to 15 feet. This tree also can be called Peacock Flower or the Pride of Barbados.

The foliage is similar to that of mimosa and comes in a range of colors from the all yellow to red, yellow and orange variety, which is most common, to a rosy red flower combination. It blooms on and off several times a year, and tolerates sun to partial shade.

Hibiscus Tree (Hibiscus fijii): This group of small trees is probably the most used here in Southwest Florida. The flowers range in size from dinner plates to small lanterns on weeping branches, exploding in every color of the rainbow and almost any combination. Hibiscus starts out as shrubs that are trained into standards (shrubs trained into a single trunk). They can be used for color and height in the gardens, flower beds or as a single specimen plant. Hibiscus trees make a strong statement when planted singly rather than in mass.

Ylang-Ylang Tree (Cananga odorata). photoS By Mike Malloy

Ylang-Ylang Tree (Cananga odorata). photoS By Mike Malloy

Dwarf Ylang – Ylang (Cananga odorata): First things first, these flowers are used to make Channel No. 5 perfume, so they are very fragrant. I mean total garden fragrant. It will permeate the entire yard. It grows only to about 6-8 feet tall and blooms all year. My large Ylang-Ylang tree in my garden has been blooming for over two years straight, and at night, we have a ritual of standing in the driveway gasping for air. It likes dappled light to partial sun with average water needs. For very little work, you receive big benefits from this little beauty, and it grows well as a container plant.

Glory Tree (Tibouchina): This has showy purple long lasting flowers that bloom from early summer to fall. Planting it in a protected area (from winds) helps with its happiness as a small Florida flowering tree. Partial sun, lots of fertilizer and average water will make this a focal point of anyone’s garden. Heavy pruning in the spring also keeps this tree happy and shapely.

Jatropha Peregrina (jatropha integerrima): This one blooms all year round with fiddle and oval shaped leaves. It used to be you could only get this plant with red flowers, but now, it comes in a pink and coral too. It is a major nectar plant for all butterflies, particularly the Florida State butterfly, the Zebra Longwing. They have been used in the medians in town with great success and give our roadways color. They can reach heights of up to 15 feet and with widths of 10 feet, but can be held at any size with a little trimming. They also have come out with a ‘compacta,’ which grows smaller and more compact only with red flowers. Full sun to partial shade and drought tolerance rounds out some the bonuses of this small tree. This has been one of my long-time favorites. Not only as a focal point in your garden, but Jatropha also makes a great hedge and a great container plant.

Desert cassia (Senna polyphylla)

Desert cassia (Senna polyphylla)

Desert Cassia (Senna polyphylla): This grows to about 10 feet. It also is the slowest growing plant I have ever come in contact with. My tree has not grown three feet in 10 years, not kidding. It also happens to be the host plant (plant that butterflies lay their eggs on) for the sulfur or yellow butterflies here in Florida. It makes a great focal point for any butterfly garden and for that matter any garden. Bright yellow flowers appear a couple times a year but bloom a long time, making it seem like it blooms all year. It likes full to partial sun and is drought tolerant. Leaves are tiny and feather-like.

Crape Myrtle (Crape myrtle spp.): This one blooms in the summer and lasts till fall. Flowers come in shades of white, pink, red, purple and more. If dead headed right after blooming the crape myrtles will most likely bloom again. Leaves give fall colors of purple, red, orange and rust just before they drop for the winter. In the winter, the bark of crape myrtle peals and takes on shades of brown, cream, white and gray. In my opinion, that makes the crape myrtle one of the showiest trees in South Florida. Trimming in spring will produce lots of blooms because flowers appear on the new growth.

(Jatropha Peregrina)

(Jatropha Peregrina)

Orange Geiger Tree (Cordia sebestena): This is used in South Florida as a container plant, street tree and small shade tree growing to about 20 feet. The Geiger produces brilliant orange flowers all year, especially in June and July. The salt tolerance is high, so it does well by the beach. The Orange Geiger also is drought tolerant, which makes it perfect for the Naples area. The trees will do well in full sun and are used in the medians here in South Florida. With a little pruning, they produce a beautiful full canopy. The Geiger’s small fruit has a pleasing fragrance. Geiger trees also are thought of as native trees, but they are not.

These are just some of the trees available to us in South Florida. Just ask your favorite nursery, and they can get it for you if they don’t already have it on hand. KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!

More Small Trees

Cassias (Sennas)

Angles Trumpet (Brugmansia)

Pink Tabebuia (Tabebuia heterophylla)

Carribbean Trumpert Tree (Tabebuia aurea)

White Geiger (Cordia bossieri)

Weeping Bottlebush (Callistemon viminalis)

Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum)

Milky Way Tree (Stemmadenia galeottiana)

About The Author

Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website,




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