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What is Calliandra?

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  • Written By: Kay Blynn
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Calliandra is a genus of flowering plants in the Fabaceae, or pea family. There are over 200 species of Calliandra plants native to tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. The flowers of the Calliandra are round, and thin like needles; the flowers, however, are soft and wispy, earning them the common name Powder Puff plant. Calliandra is a popular garden plant and has a wide variety of uses in agriculture and ranching.

There are many varieties of Calliandra species, and they vary greatly in size. Some are perennial plants averaging 12 inches tall (about 0.5 m). Shrubs and trees in this family range in size from 2 feet (about 0.6 m) to 20 feet (about 6 m) tall. Flowers are typically white, light or dark pink, or red.

The Fabaceae or Leguninosae family of plants is an important group of plants and the third largest family of flowering plants. There are over 19,400 species in the Fabaceae family, including Calliandra. Important crops in this family include soybeans, beans, peas, chickpeas and peanuts, to name just a few.

The Calliandra doesn’t produce an edible bean, but in many parts of the world some varieties are used to feed farm and herd animals. Calliandra leaves and stems are high in protein. They can be mixed with other food sources and used to feed to cattle, pigs, poultry, and goats.

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Calliandra trees can also be used as a nurse plant, i.e., one that aids in the growth of another plant. For example, coffee plants cannot tolerate full sun in some parts of the world. Taller varieties of Calliandra are grown next to the coffee plants, providing the filtered, indirect sun that coffee plants prefer. Calliandra can also serve the same purpose for banana trees.

Several varieties of Calliandra are popular as specimen plants in homes, gardens and greenhouses. One of these is the Calliandra eriophylla, commonly called the Powder Puff plant. Its leaves are fern-like and the flowers are dark pink. The other popular garden plant is C. surinamensis; it also has fern-like foliage and the flowers are light pink toward the center and dark pink on the outside. It’s commonly called the Fairy Duster plant.

Both of these varieties of Calliandra are small shrubs that can be grown successfully in containers. They prefer partial or filtered sunlight. Although they can grow to 15 feet (about 4.5 m) tall, they are usually pruned to keep them to 2 or 3 feet (about 0.6 to 0.9 m). Both produce flowers almost year round and are especially prolific bloomers during the spring and summer.

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