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Spathodea campanulata: African Tuliptree1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean 2

Introduction

A native of tropical Africa, this large, upright, 50 to 60-foot tree has a dense, 50-foot-wide crown and one-and-one-half-foot-long, pinnately-compound, evergreen leaves composed of four-inch leaflets. Due to its size it is best located in large, open landscapes and is generally not suited for small residences unless your objective is deep shade. During winter and until late spring, African tuliptree produces terminal clusters of beautiful blooms held above the foliage, a profusion of upwardly-facing, orange and yellow flowers which open several at a time from curved, two-inch-long, fuzzy brown flower buds filled with water. African tuliptree is quite spectacular when in bloom. It is often used as a framing, shade, or specimen tree but must be used only in frost-free areas. Also, its soft, brittle wood is easily broken by high winds, and trees should be located either in sheltered locations or where falling branches will do no damage.

Figure 1. Full Form—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Figure 1.  Full Form—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree

General Information

Scientific name: Spathodea campanulata

Pronunciation: spath-OH-dee-uh kam-pan-yoo-LAY-tuh

Common name(s): African tuliptree

Family: Bignoniaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to tropical Africa

Invasive potential: caution, may be recommended but manage to prevent escape (south); not considered a problem species at this time, may be recommended (north and central)

Uses: specimen; shade

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range

Description

Height: 50 to 60 feet

Spread: 35 to 50 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: upright/erect, round, spreading

Crown density: moderate

Growth rate: fast

Texture: coarse

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite

Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound; made up of 6–8 pairs leaflets and one terminal leaflet

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), oblong

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen

Leaf blade length: 1½ feet; leaflets are 4 inches

Leaf color: dark green and glossy on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Leaf—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Figure 3.  Leaf—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree

Flower

Flower color: yellow to orange red with yellow tips

Flower characteristics: very showy; bell-shaped, ruffled-looking, and emerges in clusters on terminal racemes

Flowering: primarily late winter to spring, but also year-round

Figure 4. Flower, Variation—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Figure 4.  Flower, Variation—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree

Figure 5. Flower, Variation—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Figure 5.  Flower, Variation—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Credit: R.A. Howard. ©Smithsonian Institution. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, Richard A. Howard Photograph Collection. United States, HI, Kauai.

Fruit

Fruit shape: boat-shaped

Fruit length: 6 to 12 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard; woody, 2-valved capsule

Fruit color: turns from green to brown

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; no thorns

Bark: tan and smooth, becoming gray, scaly, and shallowly furrowed with age

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: susceptible to breakage

Current year twig color: brown

Current year twig thickness: medium

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 6. Bark—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Figure 6.  Bark—Spathodea campanulata: African tuliptree
Credit: Gitta Hasing

Culture

Light requirement: full sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; well-drained

Drought tolerance: moderate

Aerosol salt tolerance: low

Other

Roots: can form large surface roots

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

Eliminate major branches that will form embedded bark as early as possible. Save those that are oriented more horizontally, with stronger attachments to the trunk. Keep them from growing larger than about half the trunk diameter by periodic thinning.

African tuliptrees will grow rapidly in full sun on any soil of reasonable drainage and fertility. Plants should be regularly watered until well-established and will then require little care.

Propagation is by seed, softwood cuttings, or root suckers.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases of major concern.

Reference

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1. This document is ENH-758, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised February 2013 and December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENH-758

Date: 3/28/2019

      Organism ID

      Contacts

      • Andrew Koeser