Sunday, June 20, 2010

African Tulip Tree - Spathodea Campanulata

This is the closest I come to seeing anything that resembles a tulip in my part of the world. 

I can hear you asking ... What has this tree got to do with tulips??  Well, it's the spectacular African Tulip tree that comes from tropical central and western Africa.  Growing up to 25 metres, it's a terrific choice as an evergreen shade tree for any tropical garden.  It is suited to warm coastal areas and is drought hardy.  Mine is surviving in very poor soil out in the full sun and in a corner of the garden that receives very little water.   It provides lots of great colour during our 'dry' season here.

This tree has a single trunk, a broad domed crown and displays leaves that are slightly hairy and shiny on the top.

The highlight though for most admirers of this tree, including me, are the beautiful, large, showy, bell-shaped flowers.

These flowers begin as a ball-shaped cluster around the middle of Autumn.  You can see the fabulous flower buds in this photo below.

Each brown banana-shaped flower bud is filled with water, forming a natural water pistol when squeezed.

The outer buds bloom first before the inner ones.   Blooming begins at the end of Autumn and continues on through our Winter.

When the flowers begin to open you can see the colours range from yellow at the base to scarlet red near the mouth on the inside, and bright orange merging to an orange-scarlet on the lobes.  Each perfumed flower lasts about 3 days.

Both the buds and the flowers are filled with nectar making it very popular with the local birdlife.


  1. Wow, this is a stunning beautiful tree! Those flowers are just gorgeous, and the perfrume is a big bonus too! I can imagine what a beaty it is standing in your garden. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for your lovely comment Ami ... it does make a great sight during the Winter here. It's a bright spot at the end of our driveway and I love to see it when I come home at the end of a long working day.

  3. Hello Bernie!

    African Tulip... hmm... the name itself sounds so exotic :-D Although the flowrs buds have a strange shape but the flowers that blossomed are remarkable! The red is gorgoeus. Interesting tree.

    Btw, glad to know about your fressia as well. The seed itself took such a long to germinate too! I look forward to seeing your pink amaranthus :-D

  4. Hi Stephanie ... it is an exotic sounding name isn't it? I much prefer the common name to the rather hard-to-get-your-mouth-around botanic name!!!

    I'm waiting anxiously for my Freesias ... so fingers crossed for both of us! I will have to include some photos of my Amaranthus in one of my posts soon ... just for you!

  5. That is a gorgeous tree, and I think I've seen it here. I just looked it up on the web, and it does grow here in FL. How wonderful that you are growing one. Enjoy.


  6. Hello Bernie, I wonder, do the flowers appear low enough for children to pick them? I'd imagine that they would have great fun squirting the buds at each other! But it would be terrible to then be deprived of those wonderful flowers!

  7. Flowerlady ... this is a very common tree here in the tropics and is often used as street planting by our town council. Perhaps it's used the same way in your part of the world.

    Heidi ... lol, unless the tree is very young I'm afraid children won't be able to reach the buds. The buds form as terminal clusters at the end of the branches and are usually spread across the top of the tree. I'm sure some children at some time have found out the secret of these buds though!!

  8. Hi Bernie, your header is stunning! Is it also a gum tree, i remember the eucalyptus leaves are elongated and not roundish as that one. I love the very white trunk. Those African tulips are also common here as maybe introduced by the landscape gardeners. They line streets of newly opened subdivisions. They are beautiful but the trunks are not hardy that the typhoons easily break them at parts which later on look unglamorous, hehe.

  9. What an interesting, beautiful tree! i bet children like to play with those banana shaped water gun buds. How fun!

  10. That's a spectacular tree, Bernie. I think I saw a small one on my last visit to Australia in 2003. It caught my eye because it was new to me.
    I loved your videos of the courtyard garden. You have a beautiful collection of plants and everything looks so well cared for.
    Your comment on Alice's post about her new grandchild made me smile. It's a small world indeed :) Alice must be quite near you at the moment. I wonder if you'll manage a get together to meet one another. It's such fun to meet blog friends.

  11. Thanks Kimberly, Andrea, Deb and Kerrie.

    Andrea ... yes the tree is my header is a Eucalyptus. The African Tulip Tree is very common here but they were mostly planted a few years back and they're not used in new housing subdivisions any more. Our mature ones seem to stand up to cyclonic winds and monsoon rains pretty well.

    Deb ... these trees are usually pretty tall so it's not a common sight to see children playing with the flowers buds. I can't even remember doing that when I was a child ... and these trees were pretty common back then. Nowadays you mostly see them in the older more established gardens.

    Kerri ... I did actually meet Alice today and I can report that Arlo is just beautiful. She slept through over a dozen staff members oohing and aahing all over her!!

  12. The flower buds are amazing and the flowers, yes, remind me tulips!

  13. Bernie, these are striking photos. The top picture, at first glance, reminds me a bit of a small tree we have here called a Staghorn Sumac, but at close range, they're entirely different. Such a sight to behold. Really, really beautiful! I can see why they would be popular with the birds. They look scrumptious!

  14. aloha,

    here in hawaii all the gulches/ravines are filled with these trees and the whole valley is engulfed in orange, i'm a little afraid of putting one in my yard due to its invasive nature, although i've heard the yellow ones are not so agressive...they are very pretty though

  15. lovely article, over here in less-than-tropical england we have our own tulip tree - the liriodendron tulipfera which has beautiful leaves with a unique shape, but your tulip tree looks stunning!

  16. Hello,
    African Tulip tree, I would like to have one in my garden.

  17. That is a very pretty tree and look at your clear, blue sky...very pretty!

  18. Thanks first! My amaranthus is showing its red and yellow colour already even though the plant is still short ;-) Have a great weekend.

  19. I'm a bit tardy in thanking those who've taken the time to make comments ... sorry everyone!

    Tatyana ... it's the colour that makes this tree a common choice when thinking of having some Winter colour in the garden.

    Thanks Karen ... the little Sunbirds love the flowers on this tree ... as do the Black Cockatoos.

    Noel ... yes this tree can be rather invasive and it has popped up in some places out in the bushland ... but it's certainly not the worst invader ... that would be Lantana! I haven't seen many of the yellow variety here at all, but I expect it would be just as spectacular.

    Hazel ... I had a look at some google images of the Liriodendron and it certainly has the most beautiful flowers.

    Ellada ... this tree is so easy to grow in any tropical area.

    Amy ... yes we do get lots of blue-sky days ... although we've also been having some rather unseasonal overcast and gloomy days lately as well.

    Steph ... thanks for visiting. I'm so glad to hear your Amaranthus is showing its' true colours.

  20. Hi Bernie,

    Your Tulip is lovely, however it is now a declared weed in Queensland - it is a little too eager to pop up in our bushlands. If you live close to a creek or natural area I would suggest that you consider removing it and replacing it with the Black bean tree (Castanospermum australe) or the Peanut tree (Sterculia quadrifida). Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I work in the environmental field and I'm seeing our garden plants appearing in the bush quite a lot.

    There is also a nice book for Townsville showing which garden plants are starting to escape and what they can be replaced with. The book is called Bush Friendly Plants.

    Manda J

  21. Thanks for your comment Manda ... we are aware this tree is classed as a weed. Out here we are subject to regular inspections by our City Council regarding noxious weeds. Whilst we're aware that the African Tulip Tree is considered a weed, it's not top of list for removal at present.

    Ever since we moved to this property we've been working hard at removing Lantana camara and Zizyphus mauritiana - both of which are absolute nightmares. We've had some success, but it's an ongoing and rather expensive process ... and it's about all we can afford right now. To remove the Spathodea, which is now around 15 feet tall, the cost would be well over $1500 ... whilst we know it's important to remove it's just not top priority at the moment.

    The City Council is not too concerned about it either ... given it's location and the fact that the poor conditions it grows in means it's not very productive in producing flowers or seed pods. Our tree is not as healthy as many around our city ... but it is on our 'to do' list.

    Our Council is more concerned with the removal of the two plants I've mention above ... and in keeping an eye out for Siam Weed and Parthenium Weed

  22. HI:
    my tulip tree is getting to be too tall for my house and I want it as a house plant. Is it okay to top the top off at it near the ceiling? Will this kill this beautiful plant. I have 3 of these beautiful trees and they will tolerate the winter here in Canada so i want it as a house plant. Will wait to hear from you at

  23. Hi Bernie, I am thinking of planting an African tree in my Sydney garden; there is a beautiful specimen in the street but I wonder if possums will be interested in eating the flowers, buds or leaves. I live adjacent to a park and the possums come in to my garden via the tree canopy! No use collaring the tree! Any experience?

    1. No I've never seen the possums around here eating anything on the African Tulip Tree. It's more the birds that feast on its flowers and buds.

    2. Thanks Bernie, as they are fast growing trees, I think I'll give it a go! Love your blog too, thank you, John

  24. Hi Bernie,
    I have an African Tulip tree that I just can't kill. It is invading my yard, my neighbours yard and is spreading still even after being cut down 4 years ago and poisoned many times. It IS a pest and is killing our 'native bees'.
    Please read: A Killer on our Streets, in our Yards and Bush
    by Bob Luttrell, Bob the Beeman. (B Ag Sc)

    Thank you
    Jane Cairns

    1. G'day Jane. You could also have informed Bernie that it has been declared a Noxious Weed in Qld and NSW. I'm endeavoring to get them off the streets in the Clarence Valley Council area in Northern NSW, where they are indeed killing Native Stingless Bees AND providing noxious substances for Honey Bees to take back to their hives. Someone back in 1840 made a big mistake. I hope Bernie undoes his mistake.

      Jane - cut it down after the sap has risen into the trunk and then get a Stump grinder in, to take it down to the roots, then poison them. That might work.

    2. It is declared as an environmental weed in many countries and it kills the native Australian stingless bees .


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