Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The beautiful and INVASIVE African Tulip Tree (aka Flame Tree)

The exquisite flower of the African Tulip Tree.

If a plant’s going to be a villain, then it might as well look pretty. The African Tulip Tree or Flame Tree(Spathodea Campanulata) is a beautiful ornamental tree, but is super-invasive, meaning it takes over whatever it can and crowds out native species. It has the most exquisite and flamboyant red or orange flowers. It also makes big seed pods with thousands of little heart shaped seeds.  The tree leaves tons of flowers and pods and seeds all over the place.
African Tulip Tree from a distance.

Flowers also come in orange.

Even the seeds are beautiful with a heart shape.

Originally from South Africa I believe, it’s a tree that has spread all over Hawaii. It’s found along roadsides, front yards, gardens, and wild wherever it can grow. It’s very hard to get rid of, and many people don’t want to get rid of it because it’s so darn pretty.  I even saw an exquisite watercolor painting by Connie Adams called Jungle Queen featuring the African Tulip Tree

Photo used by permission of Connie Adams,

Some friends from South Africa told stories about how they played with the immature green seed pods as kids. If you have a tree that’s short enough where you can reach the seed pods, they are full of water… just squeeze one, and you have a nature-made water pistol.

By the way, a great website on Invasive species is run by Hawaiian Ecosystems At Risk. I haven’t fully explored all their features, but they also have photo galleries of invasive species and a link to submit mystery plant photos.

The arrows point to the seedlings, which are prolific.
They look like tomato plants.

The tree is super resilient. I am impressed with how ridiculously hard it has been to get rid of one particular tree in our gulch. A year ago, the tree was chopped down, then every couple of months I hack at the new shoots growing from the stump. I have even stripped the bark off the stump, and still it grows back. It’s amazing. If someone could patent this vigorous growth formula, for other plants, hmmm… makes me wonder if it has enzymes that could be used in a rooting formula in the way that traditionally willow branch water or sap was used for rooting plants. Also, there are tons of young African tulips that I have constantly been pulling out. I don’t feel like using roundup, so it’ll be interesting to see if I can get the tree stump to finally decompose under the moist conditions of Haiku. Haiku is a beautiful rainy place as most of you know, so it’s a race between the force of entropy that is so active here versus the innate resilience and survival instinct of this tree. I keep hacking at it, so it evens the competition a little bit.

The African Tulip Tree stump, still sprouting after
several months and much hacking.


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