Hong Kong Orchid Tree

Hong Kong Orchid Tree-The ABC’s of Tropical Beauty

If you are one of those people who objects to the debris which always seems to fall from trees, the Hong Kong Orchid tree is the perfect choice for you.  A species of tree known for its beautiful flowers ranging from pink to magenta to blue purple, it produces no fruit. Believed to be sterile, this hybrid (Bauhinia blakeana) is thought to be a chance cross between B. purpurea and B.variegata.  They do not ‘set seed’ so the tree does not drop long pods as other orchid trees are known for which makes for a more maintenance free landscape effort.

 

For this reason the Hong Kong Orchid tree-also the official floral emblem of Hong Kong, where-on seashore, it was first discovered in 1908, is valued for landscaping, back drops to patios, along walkways or simply for its flowers which can be cut and brought in for days of beauty.  They are perfect in parks or on large properties that need space fillers.  These trees are largely cultivated in tropical regions as they have a poor survival record in weather below 22 degrees-of which, they can only withstand for brief periods of time, and that is only if well established.

An irregularly shaped wooded plant, the Hong Kong Orchid tree often has multiple trunks growing 25-30 feet tall and house round, spreading canopies, reaching 20-25 feet. The leaves are a medium grey green to dark green in color, are shaped like the hoof of a cow and grow 6-8 inches in diameter. The trees produce large orchid-like blooms from late fall to late spring making it a desirable accent where winter color is needed.  Large, six-inch blossoms appear when little color is present anywhere in the garden, making it a beautiful, showy specimen.

In confusion, the Hong Kong Orchid tree and several distinct species are regularly lumped together and referred to as the same tree. While none are actually orchids, the dramatic flowers greatly resemble them.  From afar these trees appear ablaze with color dancing in a breeze, while up close, the large flowers resemble huge fluttering butterflies with overlapping petals that make their appearance on an otherwise bare winter tree stunning.  It blooms every 4-6 weeks and can lose its leaves after the blooming cycle.

The Hong Kong Orchid tree can only be propagated by cuttings, air layers or grafting, but the process is not an easy one. Though the tree, itself does not require it, regular pruning should be practiced as this species can easily break down under its own weight.  Plant in full sun when possible, though they will do well in lightly shaded locations also.

Hong Kong Orchid trees are fairly easily cultivated and are quite drought tolerant when properly cared for when young.  By watering frequently early the root system develops a good grounding in the surrounding soil. After this the seasonal/tropical rains usually supply plenty of moisture. They like well drained, slightly alkaline soil, loam or sand through out their lives.

As far as feeding your Hong Kong Orchid tree, a general landscape fertilizer in the spring (March through June) in the first three years after planting in usually sufficient-a good 2-10-10 bloom boosting type is ideal. In the years following decomposing mulches often supply the necessary nutrients. This species is moderately quick growing reaching maximum height within about 15 years.

Hong Kong Orchid tree are native to Southeastern Asia-growing wild in tropical and subtropical regions of that area. They are not easily infested but common pests include borers, mites and caterpillars. Common diseases are leaf spot and leaf scorch.