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What’s Blooming in Paradise: African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata)

By Staff | Feb 16, 2011

First impression:Frilly flowers in a cup-like shape of vibrant red and yellow hues edged with a gold rim. This extra-large blossom really looks like a tulip on steroids. My eye is drawn to the clusters of blooms at the end of each branch of this tall lanky tree. The long pinnate leaves add to the overgrown look extending as long as 15 inches. The bark is smooth and light color. You can see this dark continent’s version of tulips in fabulous bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: This large tree is a single species from the Sapthodea genus, that can reach a height of 80 feet. It has an upright manner with clusters of tulips at the end of each branch. Even from a distance it will draw your eye. An attractive tree with super long dark green leaves that contrast the tan smooth bark. The wood is very resistant to fire and will be one of the few plant survivors after a burn. This may be the reason that in other countries witch doctors seek out its wood for the construction of their magical wands. This wood and tree is revered all over the world as mystical.

I detect no fragrance from the tulips that are oversized and awe-inspiring. They begin as fuzzy brown, nubby antler shapes that are the flower calyxes. They can number up to 20 on one branch, but open a few at a time. The flower is in shades of drop-dead-gorgeous sunset yellows and oranges with crinkled gold colored edges. The long stamens are velvety brown and add to the tropical tulip look. Sweet honey liquid collects in the flower. This delicate nectar is how the tree pollinates, by attracting birds to partake its sweet drink. As the birds drink, their tails dust the pollen from the outer ring of the flower. As they hop from flower to flower pollen is spread by shaking those tail feathers! The tree flowers without a set schedule all year round. I can’t help but notice some seed pods that are shaped like fingers and hold hundreds of seeds. African Tulip Tree comes from the rainforests of Africa, where it is commonly cultivated. It is a non-native that thrives in our sub-tropical climate. Prefers full sun and is drought tolerant. It is grown in tropical areas for its grand size and big vibrant flowers.

Pros: Huge flowers with lots of blossoms – Drought tolerant – Attractive when blooming or non blooming – Insect damage minimal – Sell branches on e-bay to witch doctors – Easy to maintain/prune – Salt tolerant – Can get very, very large – Brings in the birds – Dire resistant.

Cons: Daily clean up leaves/flowers which are messy and large – Non-native status – Loses limbs in strong winds – Watch out for witch doctors removing branches – Seed pods are plentiful – Brings in the birds – Not cold hardy.

Conclusion: Back up, you need lots of room to take in this ginormous tree. Come see this mystical tulip in our magical garden location.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!