These flamboyant flowering plants have a very special place in central and southern Florida. Common to all garden bauhinias are twin leaves, actually twin lobes. Not fussy about soil as long as it is reasonably well drained. Not browsed by deer.
B. x blakeana. HONG KONG ORCHID TREE. Partially deciduous tree. Native to southern China. The showiest and most coveted bauhinia; also the least cold hardy. Grows to 20 ft. high and wide; umbrella-type habit. Flowers are much larger (to 6 in. wide) than those of other bauhinias and appear in late fall to spring. They are shaped like some orchids; colors range from cranberry-maroon through purple and rose to orchid-pink, often in the same blossom. Gray-green leaves tend to drop off around bloom time, but the tree does not lose all of its foliage.
B. forficata (B. candicans). BRAZILIAN ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to deciduous large shrub or tree. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Native to Brazil. From spring through summer, bears narrow-petaled, creamy white flowers to 3 in. wide. Deep green leaves with lobes that are more pointed than those of other species. Grows to 20 ft. tall and broad, often with twisted, leaning trunk, picturesque angled branches. Short, sharp thorns at branch joints. Good canopy for patio. In the Tropical South, give some afternoon shade; when unshaded, blooms tend to shrivel during the day.
B. galpinii (B. punctata). RED BAUHINIA. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11 Evergreen to semievergreen shrub. Native to tropical and southern Africa. Brick-red to orange, 2- to 3-in. flowers, as spectacular as those of bougainvillea, spring to fall. Sprawling, half-climbing plant to about 10 ft. tall, spreading to 15 ft. Best as espalier on warm wall. With hard pruning, can make splendid flowering bonsai for large pot or box.
B. lunarioides (B. congesta). ANACACHO ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to semievergreen shrub or tree. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Native from southwestern Texas into northeastern Mexico. To 812 ft. high, 45 ft. wide, with rounded, very small leaves ( to in. long). White- and pink-flowering forms are available. Begins bloom in early spring and repeats many times over spring and summer. Open structured in afternoon shade; bushier in full sun.
B. macranthera. SIERRA ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to semievergreen shrub. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. From eastern Mexico. Grows 8 ft. high and 12 ft. wide; blooms intermittently from spring through autumn, bearing small, exotic-looking flowers that combine tones of lavender and purple. Attractive, glossy green leaves.
B. monandra. BUTTERFLY FLOWER, JERUSALEM DATE. Deciduous shrub or small tree. Native to tropical Asia. Similar to B. variegata but 20 ft. tall and wide. Clusters of 4- to 5-in.-wide, pale pink to magenta blossoms, streaked or spotted with purple, come in clusters at ends of branches. Typically flowers in summer, but in Florida bloom time may run from spring through late fall.
B. variegata (B. purpurea). PURPLE ORCHID TREE. Partially to wholly deciduous large shrub or tree. Native to India, China. The most frequently planted species. Hardy to 22F. Spectacular street tree where spring is reliably and steadily warm. Wonderful show of light pink to orchid purple, broad-petaled, 2- to 3-in.-wide flowers, usually blooming January to April. Light green, broad-lobed leaves generally drop in mid-winter. Produces huge crop of messy-looking beans after blooming. Trim beans off if you wishtrimming brings new growth earlier. Inclined to grow as shrub with many stems. Staked and pruned, becomes attractive tree to 2530 ft. tall and wide. 'Candida' is the same, but with white flowers. Species known to be invasive in Florida.