Burke's Backyard


In the Garden > Trees and Palms


There are hundreds of species of bauhinia, and they all have characteristic orchid-like flowers and 2-lobed leaves. Many of the commonly grown bauhinias come from China, where they are known as sheep's foot trees, because each leaf looks just like the cloven hoof of a sheep.

Peter Valder looked at the official emblem of Hong Kong, Bauhinia x blakeana. It is thought to be an accidental hybrid between B. purpurea and B. variegata. It was first discovered on the seashore in Hong Kong in 1908 and named after Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903. After the handing back of the colony to China, a special award was created to replace the British Imperial honours. The award is called the Grand Bauhinia Medal, or GBM for short.

Plant details

Common name: Hong Kong orchid tree, Red-flowered bauhinia

Botanic name: Bauhinia x blakeana

Description: A small evergreen tree to around 7m (20') tall. The bilobed leaves are dark green and shiny, with raised yellowish-green veins. The large, orchid-like flowers are rich magenta purple with paler veins, and the uppermost petal is darker towards the base. Flowers appear from February to November, with the peak flowering time in September to October. This bauhinia is sterile and rarely produces the large flat seed pods seen on other species.

Best climate: Northern NSW, Queensland and the tropics. In marginal climates plant in a warm, protected position.

Uses: excellent small tree for tropical gardens park or street plantings flowers can be cut and brought into the house floral emblem of Hong Kong

Care: Bauhinias like fertile, well-drained soils. They do best in full sun positions, with protection from frost and cold winds. Pruning is not usually required, but can be done after flowering if necessary. Given the right conditions, B. x blakeana is very easy to grow and requires no special treatment.

Further reading

'The Garden Plants of China' by Peter Valder. Published by Florilegium, 1999, ISBN 1876314028, rrp $88.

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