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Publication #ENH248

Bauhinia forficata: Brazilian Orchid Tree1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

One of the hardiest of the bauhinias, Brazilian orchid tree is a deciduous to semievergreen tree reaching 25 to 30 feet in height with interesting twisted ascending branches that droop at the ends, an often-leaning trunk, and large, bilobed, dark green leaves. The beautiful, white, 3- to 4-inch-wide, orchid-like blooms appear in abundance from spring through summer and are followed by flat, dark brown seed pods. Brazilian orchid tree makes a spectacular vase-shaped specimen, shade, or patio tree, or fits well into a mixed shrubbery border. The trees vary in form when young from one individual to the next, so uniform plantings are difficult to achieve. Trees become more uniform and symmetrical as they grow older. Probably too messy and sensitive to alkaline soil for a residential or downtown street tree, but would grow well and be suited for a median strip where the debris would be washed away and less noticeable.

Figure 1. 

Middle-aged Bauhinia forficata: Brazilian Orchid Tree


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General Information

Scientific name: Bauhinia forficata
Pronunciation: bah-HIN-ee-uh for-fih-KAY-tuh
Common name(s): Brazilian orchid tree
Family: Leguminosae
USDA hardiness zones: 10A through 11 (Fig. 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential: invasive non-native
Uses: deck or patio; specimen; highway median; shade
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 25 to 30 feet
Spread: 25 to 35 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: vase, round, spreading
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: cleft, lobed
Leaf shape: orbiculate
Leaf venation: palmate
Leaf type and persistence: broadleaf evergreen, evergreen
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage


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Flower

Flower color: white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: very showy

Figure 4. 

Flower


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Fruit

Fruit shape: elongated, pod or pod-like
Fruit length: 6 to 12 inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: thin, medium
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Orchid trees benefit from some pruning early in their life to increase branchiness and to produce a form that will be suited for most landscapes. Left unpruned, many trees are beautiful, forming multiple trunks and branches close to the ground, which is fine for specimen use in a lawn area or other open-space landscapes. Purchase trees with one trunk for parking lot or other urban landscapes where vehicular clearance will be necessary. Be sure to train branches so they will grow up before they spread out. If this is not done, lower branches will droop toward the ground and they may have to be removed, disfiguring the tree. Orchid trees drop fruit, small branches, and leaves periodically, so some people consider it a messy tree. But regularly fertilized in an acid soil, orchid tree is a wonderful flowering tree.

Growing in full sun or high, shifting pine shade, orchid tree thrives in any well-drained soil but in alkaline soils will show interveinal chlorosis (yellowing) on the leaves. Potassium deficiency shows up as necrosis, magnesium deficiency as chlorosis. Although tolerant of some drought, Brazilian orchid tree should receive some afternoon shade, or irrigation, in hot, dry weather to prevent the blooms from shrivelling up. The flowers are followed by many brown, woody, 12-inch-long seed pods, which fill the tree and could be considered unattractive on the tree in the winter and a nuisance when they drop.

Propagation is by seed, suckers, layerings, or cuttings.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern. Potassium, magnesium and micronutrient deficiencies are common. Orchid tree seeds itself into the landscape.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH248, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.