Bauhinia variegata

Orchid Tree, Mountain Ebony The genus Bauhinia embraces some 200 species of shrubs and trees distributed in the subtropical and tropical regions of Asia, Africa and America. Because many of them have beautiful flowers they spread far beyond the borders of their native land.

The species is from India and China. It also occurs as a common shrub in city parks throughout North Africa. It produces a profusion of strikingly large and beautifully coloured flowers so that it is prized as an ornamental even in its native land. For example in India, in the Kangra region, it is planted out in abundance in practically every village. The flowers generally appear in early spring, February-March. The fruits are long pods containing 10 to 25 seeds.

In botanical gardens one often comes across other similar species belonging to the genus Bauhinia. They are mostly grown as botanical curiosities, as their deeply lobed leaves are equipped with several ‘joints’: these occur in the place of attachment of the leaf stalk to the branch and also where the leaf stalk and the leaf blades are joined. Furthermore, the leaf blades can also ‘fold’ along the midrib. Bauhinias are thus able to make the best possible use of light. The leaves of most cultivated species are about 15 cm (6 in) long.

Bauhinia galpinii is an attractive, twining, thermophilous shrub from Mozambique and Rhodesia which often bears fruit even in botanical gardens. Also encountered there is the south Asian species B. purpurea with violet-red flowers.

The most suitable species for warm, centrally-heated flats is B. acuminata from India, Burma and China. Not only is it small, about 1 to 2 m (3 to 6 ft) high, it also flowers readily. The flowers are white and relatively large.

Like all Bauhinia species it is grown from seeds, which germinate within about a week of sowing. When the third leaf appears the seedlings should be put in pots in a loose mixture of leaf mould, loam, sand, peat and some small stones added to improve drainage. (Alternatively, use John Innes potting compost.) The growing point should be pinched out after about a month. Bauhinias stand up well to pruning. From spring until autumn they should be watered and fed regularly and placed in full sun. In winter the temperature should be slightly lowered and watering greatly limited. It is quite normal for some species to drop their leaves in winter.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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