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Publication #ENH251

Bauhinia variegata: Orchid Tree1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

The fast-growing white orchid tree grows 20- to 40-feet in height with a 25- to 35-foot-spread, the slender trunks topped with arching branches clothed in large, two-lobed, deciduous leaves. In fall, before the leaves drop, white Orchid tree is festooned with many showy and delightfully fragrant, three to five-inch-wide, purplish to white, Orchid-shaped blossoms. These flowers appear on Orchid trees from January to April and are a beautiful sight to see. The flowers are followed by 6 to 9-inch-long, slender, brown, flat seedpods, which usually persist on the tree throughout the winter. This spectacular display makes Orchid tree a favorite for specimen and street-tree plantings.

Figure 1. 

Full Form - Bauhinia variegate: orchid tree


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Bauhinia variegata

Pronunciation: bah-HIN-ee-uh vair-ee-eh-GAY-tuh

Common name(s): orchid tree

Family: Fabaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to India, Vietnam, and southeastern China

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: invasive and not recommended (South); caution, may be recommended but manage to prevent escape (Central); not considered a problem species at this time, may be recommended (North)

Uses: reclamation; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; shade; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100–200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median; specimen

Figure 2. 

Range


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Description

Height: 20 to 40 feet

Spread: 25 to 35 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: vase

Crown density: moderate

Growth rate: fast

Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: cleft, lobed

Leaf shape: orbiculate

Leaf venation: palmate

Leaf type and persistence: semi-evergreen, deciduous

Leaf blade length: 4 to 6 inches

Leaf color: bright to dull green

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf - Bauhinia variegate: orchid tree


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: purplish to white

Flower characteristics: very showy; fragrant; orchid-like and emerges in clusters at branch tips

Flowering: late winter to early summer

Figure 4. 

Flower - Bauhinia variegate: orchid tree


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Fruit

Fruit shape: elongated, flattened, pod or pod-like

Fruit length: 6 to 9 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: brown

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

Figure 5. 

Fruit - Bauhinia variegate: orchid tree


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; can be trained to one trunk; no thorns

Bark: gray and smooth to slightly rough

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

Figure 6. 

Bark - Bauhinia variegate: orchid tree


Credit:

Gitta Hasing, UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

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

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

White Orchid tree should be grown in full sun on well-drained soil. Trees are very drought-tolerant and actually flower best on dry soils. Problems include a tendency to show nutritional deficiencies, especially potassium; the weak wood which is susceptible to breakage in storms; the abundant seedlings which may germinate in the landscape; and the litter problem created by the falling leaves, flowers, and seedpods. Orchid tree may need occasional pruning to develop a uniform shape when it is young. Branches tend to develop low on the trunk and droop toward the ground forming a large bush if left unpruned. Occasional pruning during the life of the tree will help maintain a nice, neat appearance.

Pests

Caterpillars, mites, and borers.

Diseases

Leaf spot, leaf scorch, and mushroom root rot diseases.

References

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH251, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised 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, Gainesville, FL 32611; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), Wimauma, FL 33598; 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.


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.