Whether you are planning to cultivate your own trees in your yard or you simply wish to identify a tree that you noticed in the wild, the easiest way to do so is by recognizing the unique characteristics that set it apart from other, similar trees. Trees and other plants are often named after these unique characteristics --- parrot-bill, ash-leaved trumpet-flower, round-leaved sundew, hundred-leaved rose and so on. A prime example of this is the orchid tree, which in fact is not an orchid at all but is named for its orchid-like flowers.
Bauhinia spp., more commonly known as the orchid tree, is a flowering deciduous to semi-evergreen tree that grows well in the southernmost parts of California and Florida due to its proclivity for warmer, tropical climates. Orchid trees are commonly used as a shade tree or part of a shrubbery design in these parts of the United States, though it is considered an invasive species in some sections of the country.
Nativity and Habitat
The orchid tree is originally native to the tropical regions of India, China, Malaysia and Africa. The trees favor full sunlight exposure. They are highly adaptable to a wide range of soils, but for the most part favor well-drained soils. They are also low-maintenance trees; although their root systems sometimes take longer than those of other trees to completely establish in soil, once they're established, the trees require very little in the way of maintenance other than occasional watering and occasional fertilization in reaction to soil nutrient needs.
Size and Growth Patterns
At full maturity, orchid trees grow to 25 to 30 feet high. The tree's spread --- the diameter of the growth at the widest part of the crown --- measures in at 25 to 35 feet when mature. The crown grows into an asymmetrical rounded shape with moderate leaf density. Leaves resemble the shape of a cow's hoof, and the flowers, of course, resemble the shape of an orchid flower. Depending on the specific varietal grown, orchid trees range in color from white and red to pink, purple and other colors.
The orchid tree's colorful and showy flowers make it a rather obvious tree for any decorative purposes. The Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana) is often considered the most spectacular-looking varietal, showing huge 6-inch red or purple flowers during the winter. Bauhinia purpurea is a particularly diverse cultivar, producing flowers of many different colors. In addition to cosmetic considerations, cultivars should be chosen on the basis of their natural resistance to insects and diseases that occur in your geographic area.
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