Orchid tree, Purple Orchid Tree, Mountain Ebony, Poor Man’s Orchid
Although its name would seem to imply that it has variegated leaves, B. variegata doesn’t, color variation appears within its flowers. The flower contains shades of purple from very light to very dark on the primary petal.
Common Name: Orchid tree, Purple Orchid Tree, Mountain Ebony, Poor Man’s Orchid
Pronunciation: bah-HIN-ee-uh vaa-ree-uh-GAH-tuh
Botanical Name: Bauhinia variegata
Plant Type: Semi-deciduous in warm areas, fully in cool areas
Origin: India and S.E. Asia
Zones: 9 – 11 — Usually recovers from brief freezes (after dropping its leaves), will stay shrub-like where subjected to frost and freezing. Can survive temperatures to 22 F.
Rate of Growth: Fast
Salt Tolerance: Poor
Soil Requirements: Acidic, fertile, moist, but well-drained soil
Water Requirements: Water freely during the summer and less so in winter
Nutritional Requirements: Balanced liquid fertilizer monthly
Light Requirements: Full sun for best flowering
Form: Multi-trunk shrub or small tree growing as wide as it does high.
Leaves: Briefly deciduous leaves 4-6″ across and rounded with lobed ends and heart shaped bases.
Flowers: Bears beautiful fragrant flowers abundantly Feb. — May and intermittently through summer. Bauhinia variegata color variation appears within its flowers. The flower contains shades of purple from very light to very dark on the primary petal. The petals overlap.
Fruits: 6-8″ flat, narrow seed pods
Pests or diseases: Aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, mealybugs, fungal leaf spots, stem galls and root-rot.
Uses: Street tree, shade tree, specimen or focal tree in tropical and subtropical landscapes. It bears beautiful fragrant flowers abundantly in late winter and early spring and intermittently through summer. Orchid trees have brittle branches that can break in strong winds and they can be messy, dropping hundreds of dried pods in autumn. The hybrid, Hong Kong orchid tree doesn’t produce pods because it is sterile. Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia X blakeana is a sterile hybrid between (probably) B. variegata and B. purpurea, and is usually considered to be the most beautiful of all the orchid trees. It is a somewhat larger tree, evergreen with large thick leaves and striking purplish red flowers.
https://www.fleppc.org/ID_book/bauhinia%20variegata.pdfBad Habits: The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council lists the orchid tree as a Category 1 invasive species. This category identifies “invasive exotics that are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives”. This was one of the original eleven species that the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association recommended for removal from the market by its members.
Cost: $$ — Very reasonable
Propagation: Seeds germinate readily. Can be propagated from cuttings of semi-ripe wood taken in summer and rooted over bottom heat. Branches can be induced to grow roots if they are layered, either by burying a section in the ground, or scarring a small section and then wrapping it with damp sphagnum moss and enclosing in a plastic bag. The tree sometimes produces suckers which can be dug up and replanted.
Sources (“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”): AMERICAN HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY A-Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GARDEN PLANTS; FLOWERING TREES OF FLORIDA