The African Tulip Tree - Beautiful But Rarely Seen
The African Tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata, is a spectacular evergreen ornamental. Unless you live in the extreme southern part of Florida, in Hawaii, or hail from East Africa, specifically Kenya and Uganda, you have probably never seen one up close and personal. Imagine a tree that reaches up to 60 feet in height with a 50 foot spread and adorned with fist-sized, bell-shaped blossoms that point upwards, not downwards, hence the name tulip tree.
The African tulip tree also is known as the Fountain tree, Flame in the Forest, and Fire Tree because of its orange-red flowers, but the African tulip name is the one most commonly used. It is only hardy in USDA zone 10, and barely so there, and zone 11, being not the a bit tolerant of frost or freezing weather. The varieties found in Florida are much shorter in height than the African counterparts but are showy nonetheless. The African tulip tree can be seen in quite a few places in Hawaii, although it is not native to the Islands. According to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, fine specimens of the tree are to be found at the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, a botanical garden well worth a visit by the way, the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the Wahiawa Botanical Garden, and the Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Driving around the Islands, you are apt to come across many more in parks and private residences.
Not Good For Small Areas - If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where the African Tulip will grow, want a beautiful shade tree, and enjoy watching hummingbirds, this may be the tree for you. It is an easy tree to get started, and once established requires minimal care except for pruning. On the other hand, unless you live on a very large piece of property, featuring a large open landscape, the African Tulip may be more trouble than its worth. You cannot plant it near a sidewalk or too near a building, as the roots will raise and crack the sidewalk and crack a house's foundation as well. Also the tree, when attaining its full size, would overwhelm most structures it happened to be near to. If you plant it in an open lawn, you'll still have a problem with the root system, which is quite shallow and prefers to creep along the surface as well as going deeper. Because of the root system, lawn mowing near one of these trees can be next to impossible. The wood of the tree is fairly soft and brittle and there will usually be branches lying around, some times good-sized ones, after a strong wind. Still, if you can put up with all of that you'll have a tree not matched by many in terms of sheer beauty.
Pruning And Clean Up Are The Two Main Chores - The African Tulip does require some pruning as it grows to insure its overall structure is strong. Also, if planted where pedestrians are apt to pass, the branches will have to be periodically pruned as they tend to droop as they grow longer. After the flowers have finished blooming, seed pods appear, which are typically 6 to 12 inches long. The tree continuously sheds seed pods, twigs and branches, so the area around its base can become quite messy if left unattended. The African tulip is a very fast growing tree, grows best when planted in full sun, and is not fussy at all about the soil it grows in. Like any young plant, it requires periodic watering until it becomes established. Though only moderately drought tolerant, an established African tulip tree generally requires little in the way of periodic watering.