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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia x blakeana)

By Staff | Jan 14, 2015

First impression: Vibrant shades of fuchsia with magenta and red accents in supersized orchid-shaped flowers. The five exotic petals are ruffled and crinkled with long curly-que pink filaments nestled in the middle of the bloom.

These flowers are everywhere with lots of dark green leaves in the shape of two circles stitched together. I notice the smooth bark and trunk of cement gray is a great accent with gangly tapering limbs. Imagine yourself immersed in orchids, no you’re not dreaming, open your eyes and be dazzled with supersized blossoms in full bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Bauhinia includes approximately 350 species of showy flowering trees and plants. They are non-natives, whose origin is from southern China. Characteristically, they have circle-shaped leaves that are indented in the middle.

This unusual shape has been given the nickname cow’s foot to many of the species, since it reminds us of a bovine footprint. Our star is a medium to large tree that can reach the height of 50 feet. It has a natural spreading crown, with gangly limbs that from a distance draws your eye to it. It is an evergreen tree, with bilobed green leaves contrasting the soft gray smooth bark.

I detect a light sweet lingering fragrance from the dazzling wannabe orchid blossoms. Wow, the flowers consist of five lanceolate shaped petals encasing long curled inviting pink filaments. The very large fuchsia flowers are ruffled, etched and veined in reds and whites to the very last detail. The petals terminate in a circular calyx which makes them attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. They are flowering all over the tree whose limbs are long and arched. The tree is so covered in blossoms it looks as if it has exploded in orchids.

Other varieties of Hong Kong Orchid Trees would have lots of legume shaped seed pods after the flowers. Our hybrid variety skips this phase. Blakeana is a hybrid that is sterile and will not reproduce with millions of seeds. Before our hybrid was grafted, trees in earlier landscapes would set off oodles of seeds, making them invasive and undesirable. Thank goodness for Blakenana, now we can really embrace the staggeringly beautiful flowers in the wintertime. They make great cut flowers; I have successfully placed them in vases and admired them in my home for several days.

Hong Kong has made this blossom its official flower. The blossom is on the flag of Hong Kong, which carries a design of five bauhinia petals, each with a star in the middle, on a red background. When you travel to Hong Kong and witness the trees growing everywhere, you can appreciate why they are proud to be this dazzling tree’s origin.

Pros:

Huge flowers with lots of blossoms

Drought tolerant

Attractive when blooming or non-blooming

Winter bloomer

Can start corsage business for local dance hall

Easy to maintain/prune

Hummingbird attractor

Mild salt tolerant

Fast growing

Full sun

Makes a great cut flower.

Cons:

Daily clean up flowers which are messy and large

Prune/shape after flowering

Non-native status

May grow tired of explaining name

Non-native

Always plant hybrid/non-invasive.

Conclusion: This ain’t your mother’s corsage orchid! You will need an extra large lapel to show off this at your next dance social. Of course then you gotta explain where you got it from in our tropical eye-catching garden location.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!