THE AFRICAN TULIP TREE - Spathodea campanulata

The African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata



The spectacular African tulip tree is one of the tropics best kept secrets, and in some places its worst mistake! As indicated by its common name the African tulip tree is native to the tropical dry forests of Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata
The outstanding feature of the African tulip tree are of course its flowers. These are initiated from large clusters of velvety, bronze-green, kidney-shaped buds which are produced at the ends of the branches. The flared, brilliant red-orange funnel shaped flowers appear in 3 to 4 inch long racemes on the tips of the branches, all over the tree.

In the right climate the tree will blooms throughout the year but only a few flowers open at a time on each cluster. The unopened flowers contain water inside, which can be a source of water for some birds. These buds are often used by children who play with its ability to squirt the water at each other.

The fruit is a long pod, up to 18 inches in length that break open when they fall from the tree. Inside each pod is a stack of small seeds with transparent wings.

In some parts of Africa the indigenous people believe that the tree has magical properties. Wands used by local medicine men are made from its stems, while a string of the tree's red flowers posted at one's door marks the homeowner as a source of evil. Furthermore, African hunters boiled the hard, seed casings to extract an arrow poison.

Discovered in 1787 on the Gold Coast of Africa, the African tulip tree can grow anywhere between 25–90 ft tall. Unfortunately its popularity has come at a price as it has now become an invasive in Hawaii, Fiji, Guam, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and Samoa. It has the habit of invading agricultural areas, forest plantations and natural ecosystems, and because of the large, overall height the African tulip tree will out-compete and smother most other trees and crops eventually becoming the prevailing tree in those areas. This has resulted in it being nominated as one of the Top 100 'World's Worst' invaders.

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