Visit the shores of Aruba, Bonaire or Curacao in the southern Caribbean and you may encounter a picturesque, windswept tree named "divi-divi." On these islands the divi-divi acts like a sort of compass, as they obviously lean to the west thanks to the constant east-to-west blowing of the trade winds. Not tolerant of frosts, divi-divi trees are grown in tropical regions or as indoor potted bonsai specimens elsewhere. They are suited to outdoor gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture winter hardiness zones 10 and warmer.
The divi-divi tree's botanical name is Caesalpinia coriaria (former name Libidibia coriaria). It is a legume and member of the pea family, Fabaceae.
Divi-divi grows naturally and is native to the Caribbean basin, from the Lesser Antilles westward to Central America and adjacent northern South America. As alluded to in "Tropical and Subtropical Flowering Trees," it grows in seasonally wet-to-dry and coastal forests farther inland, too.
Potentially growing up to 30 to 40 feet tall, divi-divi is a small thornless tree that can attain a broad and spreading canopy of branches and foliage. On the coast where the plant is constantly affected by winds, it naturally attains a leaning and more aerodynamic canopy shape, maturing to a much smaller size.
A seasonally deciduous tree, divi-divi has pinnately compound leaves. Each leaf comprises two ranks of branches that support many small green oval leaflets. Overall, the foliage looks very feathery in texture. Its small pale yellow flowers are fragrant and yield nectar for honeybees. Following the flowering, the tree produces abundant numbers of small, twisting yellowish pods that are filled with black seeds. The bark is fissured and brownish gray.
The heartwood of this tree is dark brown to black and often streaked. It's heavy, very hard and strong and durable but difficult to work with carving tools, according to "Tropical and Subtropical Flowering Trees." The pods are rich in tannins that are used in the leather industry. Moreover, the wood produces a red dye while the pods yield a black dye.
Plant divi-divi in a sand or loam soil that is well-draining and is slightly acidic (pH between 6.0 and 7.0). It appreciates and responds well to lots of water during the heat of the growing season, but it is still a slow-growing species. Site the tree in a full sun location, receiving no less than eight hours of direct sun rays daily. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, trees begin to flower and produce pods at an age of 5 to 7 years; seedlings are easily harmed by frosts and hot dry winds.