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.

Plant Facts:

Common Name:  Orchid tree, Purple Orchid Tree, Mountain Ebony, Poor Man’s Orchid

Pronunciation: bah-HIN-ee-uh vaa-ree-uh-GAH-tuh

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Botanical Name:   Bauhinia variegata

Family:  Leguminosae 

Plant Type:  Semi-deciduous in warm areas, fully in cool areas

Origin:  India and S.E. Asia

THE REGIONAL FLAG OF THE HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGION IS A RED FLAG WITH A BAUHINIA HIGHLIGHTED BY FIVE STAR-TIPPED STAMENS.

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.

Height:  25′

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.

BAUHINIA VARIEGATA (ORCHID TREE) BLOOM.

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

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