Tree IDs #6: First mystery tree followup - Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata)

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 03-11-2009 03:45 PM 11441 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: First mystery tree - help me ID it! Part 6 of Tree IDs series Part 7: Second mystery tree - Any ideas? »

Our very own socalwood immediately picked off my first mystery tree. It would seem indeed to be a Bauhinia variegata, known commonly as the orchid tree. I took a look through the world of the Bauhinia, and for a time almost thought it was Bauhinia purpurea, The Free Dictionary’s other possibility (entry 1). Apparently I’m not alone in this confusion, but shots of B. purpurea, like the one in the Wikipedia article seem quite different. Another name that occasionally popped up was Bauhinia candida, but it turns out that’s incorrect usage. Candida is simply a cultivar of B. variegata.

flowers of an orchid tree (Bauhinia variegata) blooming in late March

Yesterday morning, up early, I went out to have another look at the trees. The flowers are blooming on several right now – as they are supposed to between January and April (it’s March) – and they match up 1 for 1 to photos of the flowers of B. variegata, which are quite a bit different from those of the other Bauhinia species that I managed to track down of the >200 of them that Wikipedia claims exist. Socalwood scores a solid win.

closeup of flowers blooming on an orchid tree (B. variegata)

There are a few examples along the street where I took my photos that appeared dead, filled with what I believed to be brown, withered leaves hanging onto the middle of the tree. These turned out – after research, and closer inspection of my own photos – to be the long, brown seed pods that form at the base of the long leaves, revealed as the drapery of the leaflets fall away from the leaves, from the bottom up. In this shot, you can see how long the leaves can grow. The squiggly lines that shoot from the seed pods into the sky are each one alternate compound leaf, as long as 3’, with most of the leaflets fallen away. The youngest parts of the leaves – the leaflets at the top – are still clinging on:

bare alternate compound leaves reveal a great number of seed pods at their bases on this orchid tree (B. variegata)

Here’s a closeup of the seed pods, which are about 3-4 inches long:
seed pods clinging to an orchid tree (B. variegata)

I also grabbed a few shots of a younger tree:
young orchid tree (B. variegata)

supported trunk of young orchid tree (B. variegata)

leaves of a young orchid tree (B. variegata)

And now the important bit… can we build anything out of it? :)

I’ve scoured the internet for any mention of orchid tree turnings, carvings, whittlings, furniture, and other usage, and simply can’t find anything. Despite that the University of Florida's page on it states “the weak wood… is susceptible to breakage in storms,” online dictionaries like to say it has hard dark wood, sometimes calling it “mountain ebony.” This page on Mountain Ebony shows several of the colors and varieties of Bauhinia, and claims “The wood of the tree is of very good quality and reddish-brown in colour and is very strong. This is probably the reason behind the name ‘Mountain Ebony.’ This wood is used only for agricultural purposes and as firewood.”

The section on ebony from Turning and Mechanical Manipulation, by Charles Holtzapffel makes this claim: “Mountain Ebony. The different species of Bauhiniae are so called: B. porrerta grows on the hills in Jamaica, and has wood which is hard and veined with black.” Perhaps there’s some discrepancy with the local instances of the orchid tree, and those that grow in India and other more tropical/sub-tropical regions.

Maybe I’ll have to spirit away one of the local trees and find out how well it works myself ;) Meanwhile, at least they attract hummingbirds.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

3 comments so far

View jonathandj's profile


1 post in 4526 days

#1 posted 04-30-2009 11:59 AM

Bauhinia Variegata is also widely known as “camels foot” tree in RSA. I have turned a number of bowls and lampstands from this wood. It is very stable, turns beuatifully and polishes to a very unique coloration of dark chocolate with streaks

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4594 days

#2 posted 04-30-2009 03:04 PM

Jonathan – I would love to see pictures if you have any!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Flyingmonkey158's profile


15 posts in 1869 days

#3 posted 12-08-2016 06:41 PM

Gary, came along your post as I was searching to figure out what kind of wood I came across the other day. The leaves look to be of Bauhinia purpurea I live in Anaheim, and this tree was listed in the common trees of LA website so I am thinking it is it but I cant find any good pictures of the actual wood. I found two logs, and some leaves. let me know what you think.

-- Doing things.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics