Bauhinia spp.



Bauhinia spp.

L. 1753

pronounced: bow-HIN-ee-uh species

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Caesalpinioideae - the cassia subfamily


common names: poor man's orchid, orchid tree, bauhinia

The genus was named after the Bauhin brothers, Swiss botanists of French descent, Gaspard (1560-1624) and Jean (1541-1613). Gaspard’s early classification of plants by genus and species in his chief work, the Pinax theatri botanici (Picture of the botanical stage,1623), anticipated the binomial arrangement of Linnaeus, and it was Linnaeus who named this species after the brothers.

The plants are distributed all over the tropics. Bauhinia x blakeana is the floral emblem of Hong Kong, and a stylized flower appears on the flag.
Bauhinia trees typically reach a height of 6 to 12 metres, and the branches spread outwards to about 6 metres. The 2-lobed leaves are usually 10–15 cm across. The orchid-like flowers have five petals, are anything up to 12.5 cm in diameter, are generally found in shades of red, pink, purple, orange or yellow, and are often fragrant. There is also a white variety alba.

Flowers appear from February to November, with the peak flowering time in September and October. There are many specimens of these trees in Magnetic Island nature strips and gardens. Most of the commonly grown ones originate from China, where they are known as Sheep’s Foot Trees, because the leaf looks rather like a cloven hoof.

The Hong Kong Bauhinia is thought to be an accidental hybrid between Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata. It is sterile, and rarely produces the large flat, explosively dehiscent seed pods, often up to 25 cm long, seen on other species. It was first found on the seashore in Hong Kong in 1908, and named after the then Governor of the colony, Sir Henry Blake, who was a keen amateur botanist. After Hong Kong was handed back to China, a special award, the Grand Bauhinia Medal (GBM), was created to replace the former Imperial honours.

The Castor or Croton caterpillar Achaea janata has been found feeding on members of the Bauhinea genus.

Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2007-2010
Page last updated 19th October 2018