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Sterculia colorata or bonfire tree, photographed at Tula Plants & Design. Sterculia colorata or bonfire tree, photographed at Tula Plants & Design.

Sterculia colorata

Botanical Name — Sterculia colorata
Common Name — Bonfire Tree, Indian Almond
Other Botanical Name – Firmiana colorata
Plant Family — Sterculiaceae

Background

A stunning caudex plant from Southeast Asia (specifically Sri Lanka to Vietnam), Sterculia colorata is famous for its clusters of bright orange flowers beloved by pollinators, including songbirds. Large, maple-shaped leaves grow from the crown of this plant every spring and typically crisp and drop from the plant in the winter. Flowers appear early the next year, before new leaves come in.

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Growth Requirements

Sun

  • Sterculia colorata does best in filtered sun, 4 to 5 hours a day. Avoid intense afternoon sun by sheltering this plant beneath the limbs of a larger plant or placing it in the shadow of a sheer curtain. Grow outdoors in light shade or indoors in a sunny window with eastern or western exposure.


Temperature/ Humidity

  • Sterculia colorata prefers warm temperatures in the 70s and 80s. It can become stressed if left in conditions of extreme temperatures or intense sun.
  • These plants are not cold hardy, if grown outdoors migrate to a sunny spot indoors when night time temperatures drop below 55 ºF.

Water
  • Native to sub-tropical climates that regularly experience dry seasons, Sterculia colorata are drought tolerant plants. Water when the soil dries out (fairly often) in the summer and only infrequently during the winter. Their soil should be allowed to dry out entirely before watering.
  • When you do water in winter, don’t thoroughly drench the soil.

Soil/Roots
  • Sterculia colorata prefer a sharply draining mix. Cacti or succulent potting mix is great. You can amend a regular potting soil with sand, pumice, or perlite up to 50% to improve grittiness and drainage.


Flowering

  • Sterculia colorata produce clusters of orangish red flowers when mature, most often in late March or April. They are pollinated by fruit flies, bees, and birds.


Fertilization

  • These plants do not require fertilizer, though it can be added to give container grown plants a boost or to supplement poor soil. Apply a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer monthly, diluted at half strength.


Propagation

  • Sterculia colorata is most successfully propagated from seed. Cuttings sometimes work, but are usually hit and miss.


Health

Diseases

  • Sterculia colorata are attractive to mealy bugs, so keep an eye out for fuzzy white specks in caudex folds.
  • Root rot can also be a concern and is triggered by overwatering. Always err on the side of underwatering.


Maintenance (pruning, legginess, repotting)

  • Little maintenance is required to grow these plants.
  • This plant loves to be rootbound in a pot. Once planted, it will be happy in the same pot for several years. Repot once every two to three years.


Toxicity

  • Sterculia colorata is not known to be toxic to humans or pets, but should not be ingested.
  • Young stems and leaves are sometimes used as fodder for livestock in Southeast Asia.