Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Orchid Tree

Orchid Tree blooms

Bauhinia purpurea

Taken in Waimea Kauai Hawaii where they line the main street of downtown. At full bloom they look gorgeous.

Synonyms: Hong Kong Orchid Tree, Butterfly Tree, Mountain Ebony, Geranium Tree, Purple Bauhinia

Orchid tree is native to Southeast Asia and is well adapted to hot tropical climates as well as more mild ones. Known as Bauhinia blakeana in scientific parlance, the Hong Kong orchid tree is something of an enigma. Orchid tree is used as a street tree, shade tree, specimen or focal tree in tropical and subtropical landscapes.


In late winter, it explodes with the blooms that give rise to its common English name – Hong Kong orchid tree – and which have been adopted as the emblem of Hong Kong. The beautiful display of orchid-like blooms makes the tree so desirable for the landscape. The beautiful, white, three to four-inch-wide, orchid-like blooms appear in abundance from spring through summer and are followed by flat, dark brown seed pods.


Fruit is often juicy, with a subtle sweet taste somewhat resembling to an apple. Orchid trees drop fruit, small branches and leaves periodically so some people consider it a messy tree. The fruits turn black when they mature. Flowers are followed by 6-12", woody, pod fruit. The deep red fruits are food for wild animals.


Leaves are bold, dark green, resembling a spread-out wing of a bird. Leaves are bright green and delicate like those of cypress. Leaves are rigidly subcoriaceous, glabrous and are divided into 2 lobes with almost angular tips.


Seeds are in pea-like brown pods, which may be 15 to 30 cm long. Hong Kong orchid trees are propagated from cuttings while Purple orchid trees are propagated from seeds. Pre-soak the seeds by soaking overnight in hot water.


Orchid trees do best in acidic soil and suffer under limey conditions. Water the orchid tree when the soil is dry, generally every week to two weeks. They're deep-rooted plants so they don't like to be transplanted but they will tolerate hot, exposed positions and dry soils.

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