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Orchids or butterflies? They're bauhinias.

These versatile tropical trees produce striking flowers

BAUHINIAS HAVE A luxuriant beauty that evokes the tropics in mild-winter regions of California and the Arizona desert. Species range from evergreen to deciduous and from shrubs to trees and climbers--all with distinctive twin-lobed leaves. Flowers range from purple to orange to white. Bauhinias need sun, warmth, and moderate water; they flower best when grown in wind-sheltered spots in well-drained, semi-fertile soil. Though they thrive in heat, dry heat or drought may cause leaf edges to brown.

Here are the four most widely available bauhinias for a variety of climates and landscape uses.

Hong Kong orchid tree (B. blakeana). Dramatic, fragrant, butterfly-shaped flowers grow about 6 inches wide and bloom profusely in autumn and early winter. Colors range from rose pink to deep maroon and purple, often in the same blossom. The gray-green leaves are partially deciduous when the tree is in flower; sometimes dead leaves hang on the tree. It grows 20 to 25 feet tall. Prune in late winter or early spring as new leaves break out. Zones 13, 19, 21, 23, 24.

Brazilian butterfly tree (B. forficata). This large deciduous shrub or tree (pictured above right) grows 20 to 40 feet tall with an open, picturesque branch structure; branches have thorns. It makes a good patio tree. Narrow-petaled, creamy white flowers (3 to 5 inches across) open in late summer. They bloom at night and decline as the day progresses; in hot areas, afternoon shade helps sustain blossoms. Prune in spring. Zones 9, 12-24.

Red bauhinia (B. punctata). This versatile, shrubby plant sprawls to 15 feet wide. Train it as a tree (pictured below left), espaliered on a warm wall, or pruned hard for a bonsai. The 2-inch flowers, from salmon to orange to brick red, bloom from summer into fall, peaking in late summer. Prune in late spring. Zones 13, 15, 16, 18-24.

Purple orchid tree (B. variegata); white orchid tree (B. V. 'Candida'). This most frequently planted bauhinia (pictured above left) is bushy with multiple trunks, although you can train it as a standard. It grows 20 to 35 feet tall, and generally drops its leaves in midwinter, except in moist, hot areas. The broad-petaled 2- to 3-inchwide flowers open in late winter or early spring; colors are light pink to purple. Zones 13, 18-24.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ocone, Lynne
Date:May 1, 1992
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