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Last Update 06/03/08

Florida Native Plant Section

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Cordia Sebestena

 Geiger Tree

Cordia Sebestena is a small shapely tree which grows up to be  25" tall and as wide. It is native to the northern coast of South America, Yucatan, the West Indies, and the Florida Keys (although it it is considered by most to be a native tree, most likely it was introduced).


Audubon wrote of this tree in his Ornithological Biography, Volume. II, pages 443-447, and 448:

"The Rough-leaved Cordia

This plant, on account of its large tubular scarlet flowers, is one of the most beautiful of the West Indian trees. I saw only two individuals at Key west, where we supposed, they had been introduced from Cuba. They were about fifteen feet high, the stem having a diameter of only five or six inches. They were in full bloom in the early part of May, and their broad deep green leaves, and splendid red blossoms, mingled with the variety of plants around me, rendered their appearance delightful. Both trees were on private property, and grew in a yard opposite to that of Dr. Strobel, through whose influence I procured a large bough, from which the drawing was made, with assistance of Mr. Lehman. I was informed that they continue to flower nearly the whole summer"

White-headed Pidgeon -- Click to Enlarge

Click image above for a closer view.

Historians using Key West records have been able to document that Dr. Strobel's neighbor was a Captain Geiger. The Cordia tree thus became part of Key's history when the tree took on the additional name of Geiger tree. Named after Captain John H. Geiger, who built his home on Whitehead Street in Key West, the name "Geiger tree" is likely of local origin inspired by Audubon's engraving of Captain Geiger's beautiful flowering Cordia tree with white-crowned pigeons sitting in a branch. Audubon's assistant, George Lehman painted the Geiger tree.

Cordia sebestena young tree

 Cordia sebestena -- young tree

Cordia sebestena flowers. Click to enlarge.

Click image above for a closer view.

Cordia sebestena leavess. Click to enlarge.

Click image above for a closer view.

Plant Facts:

Common Name:   Geiger Tree

Botanical Name:   Cordia Sebestena

Plant Type:  Evergreen tree

Zones: 10-11

Height:  25', medium growth rate

Soil Requirements:  Various, an ideal plant for problem soils.

Water Requirements: High drought tolerance also high flooding tolerance. Holds up very well to salt spray.

Light Requirements: Full sun. Frost sensitive

Leaves:  The large, 7" long, stiff, dark green leaves are rough and hairy and feel somewhat like sandpaper

Flowers: Dark orange, two-inch-wide flowers appear in clusters at branch tips most of the year.

Fruit: 1" to 2" long, pear-shaped fruits have a pleasant fragrance

Uses:  Container or above-ground planter; large parking lot islands (> 200 square feet in size); wide tree lawns (>6 feet wide); medium-sized parking lot islands (100-200 square feet in size); medium-sized tree lawns (4-6 feet wide); recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; near a deck or patio; shade tree; small parking lot islands (< 100 square feet in size); narrow tree lawns (3-4 feet wide); specimen; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); residential street tree

Cordia boissieri aka Texas Wild Olive or White Geiger has white blooms with antique-gold centers and is cold tolerant through Central Florida (low 20s or colder), Cordia lutea aka Yellow Cordia has clusters of yellow flowers while Cordia superba aka Brazilian Cordia has pure-white flowers.

Propagation:  Seeds, cuttings.

Sources:  Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, Fact Sheet ST-182 Cordia sebestena -- Geiger-tree, USDA Forest Service, Flowering Trees of Florida


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