Pronounciation: Kal-lee-AN-dra kal-i-FOR-ni-ca
USDA 9-11 (arid regions best)
Landscape Use: Xeric accent shrub, strong attractant of hummingbirds which are VERY territorial about this plant, also strongly attracts bees.
Form & Character: Upright inverted vase to rounded form, mostly open and stiff to graceful, INFORMAL (don't shear), C. californica is typically more luxuriant and vigorously upright than C. eriophylla though hybridization and the resultant genetic mixing of these two landscape plant taxa within the Phoenix urban environment has muddled this.
Growth Habit: Evergreen woody shrub, generally variably upright from it's base with a cane-like braching habit. Ranges in height from 3 to 8 feet depending on water availability with a generally less than equal spread.
Foliage/texture: Small pinnately-compound leaves, young leaves somewhat pubescent, leaves close during night; medium fine texture.
Flowers & fruits: Numerous brilliant red pin cushion flowers (image captured in my backyard by famous Bulgarian artist and photographer, Hari Antanasov) in terminal and axillary clusters followed by erect to upright pubescent pods to 3 inches long.
Seasonal color: Sometimes spectacular displays of red flowers during several toimes of the year except the heat of summer prior to the monsoon and briefly during the coldest part of winter. Profuse flowering typically occurs during spring and fall.
Temperature: Red fairy duster is absolutely at home in the high heat of the lower Sonoran Desert; and it's cold tolerant too down to 22oF.
Light: Full sun (no shade) is best.
Soil: Red fairy duster is tolerant of all lower desert Arizona soils, though well-drained drier soils are best. Foliar chlorosis or leaf yellowing can develop if soils are chronically wet.
Watering: Apply infrequent and deep supplemental watering during extended dry periods only for best appearance. Regularly irrigating red fairy duster will greatly increase it's vigor and size resulting in an increased pruning requirement. My recommendation: Do not excessively water this 'free-spirited' shrub because doing so will promote rank vegetative growth, reduced overall flower display, and encourage bad horticultural behavior, aka shearing. Both red (California) and Baja fairy duster shrubs are prone to lose leaves (drought deciduous habit) during extended periods of dry soil conditions - don't freak out, this is okay.
Pruning: Selectively remove upright branches at different heights within the shrub's crown during summer to promote a full canopy of foliage. Red fairy duster is a wonderful free spirited shrub that's seems to always be on the verge of growing "Out of Control". Extensively rejuvenate only as a last resort. Don't ever shear or hedge this beautiful desert shrub.
Propagation: Acid scarification of seed in order to seed propagate, otherwise vegetative cutting (use a perlite based medium) is more difficult.
Disease and pests: None
Additional comments: Red fairy duster is a tremendous addition to
any xeric landscape and integrates well with the Sonoran Desert style architecture. Calliandra californica and eriophylla
will readily hybridize. This makes urban seed collection interesting
because progeny (seed produced offspring) are just as likely to have a mixed up
array of pink and/or red flower colors and a range of growth habits from
prostrate to stiffly upright. Naturalization (reseeding) of
Calliandra species in the Phoenix urban environment is common and is
stimulated around points of irrigation or in areas mulched with gravel (enhanced seed scarification).
'Sarita' is a cultivar of C. californica with a profoundly low, prostrate habit that was found and patented by Sarah Celestian, a former
graduate student of mine while she was working at Desert Tree Farm in Phoenix, Arizona.
'Sarita' is a cultivar of C. californica with a profoundly low, prostrate habit that was found and patented by Sarah Celestian, a former graduate student of mine while she was working at Desert Tree Farm in Phoenix, Arizona.