The orchid tree is beautiful but invasive

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Bauhinia variegata Picture courtesy Christoph Diewald see his flickr pageBauhinia variegata Picture courtesy Christoph Diewald see his flickr pageRead more about the orchid trees (Bauhinia variegata) invasive status in South Africa and which indigenous bauhinias to plant as substitutes.

In the past the stunning orchid tree was planted extensively in South Africa, but sadly, because it spreads profusely by seed and competes with indigenous species, it has been classified as extremely invasive. Read more about it and which indigenous bauhinias to plant as substitutes.

Many of the almost 300 species of Bauhinia, also called “orchid trees” or “camelsfoot” (Bauhinia variegata) are popular garden subjects in subtropical or tropical regions of the world for their decorative foliage and abundance of beautiful flowers. 

The orchid tree, or orgideeboom, which is native to China, through Southeast Asia to the Indian subcontinent, is one of the most beloved and well-known species.  It is a deciduous or semi-evergreen tree which grows 6 to 10m tall, with large roundish leaves, and from August to October it produces its beautiful pinkish white flowers, blotched or striped with red, cream or purple, followed by long, dark brown seed pods.

The orchid tree is mostly found in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the Eastern Cape it is classified as a 1b invasive species requiring compulsory control as part of an invasive species control programme, and must be removed and destroyed. These plants are deemed to have such a high invasive potential that infestations can qualify to be placed under a government sponsored invasive species management programme. No permits will be issued.

In the rest of the country it is classified as a Category 3 Invasive species regulated by activity. An individual plant permit is required to undertake any of the following restricted activities (import, possess, grow, breed, move, sell, buy or accept as a gift) involving a Category 3 species. No permits will be issued for Category 3 plants to exist in riparian zones. Click here to go to SANBI to find alien plant alerts.

Good news for gardeners in southern Africa is that about eight species occur here which are just as beautiful as the invasive orchid tree. The most popular garden varieties are:

Pride-of-De Kaap, Vlam-van-die-vlakte, mutswiriri, umvangatane (Bauhinia galpinii) is admired for its masses of bright orange-red flowers and remains one of the most popular garden varieties of bauhinia around the world. Click here to read my free article

After the pride-of-De Kaap, the Kei Bauhinia, Kei White Bauhinia, Keibeesklou, umDlandlovu (Bauhinia bowkeri) is the most striking indigenous bauhinia, and although it is not common in gardens, it is gaining in popularity for its sweetly fragrant, pure white flowers. Click here to find beautiful pictures and more information about this bauhinia at PlantZAfrica

Yellow Bauhinia, Geelbeesklou, IsiThibathibana (Bauhinia tomentosa) is another popular garden subject with its lovely bell-shaped yellow flowers. Click here to read my free article.

The Natal bauhinia (Bauhinia natalensis) with its lovely foliage and gorgeous white flowers is a plant with exceptional horticultural potential for any garden. Click here to read my free article