Bauhinia galpinii

red bauhinia


Bauhinia galpinii

N.E.Br. 1891

pronounced: bow-HIN-ee-uh gal-PIN-ee-eye

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Caesalpiniodeae - the cassia subfamily


common names: red bauhinia, pride of the cape

Bauhinia was named for the Bauhin brothers, 16th century Swiss botanists; galpinii is for E.E. Galpin (1858–1941), a South African botanical collector. Galpin was a banker by profession, and a botanist only in his spare time. He took up the study of botany when in his mid 20s, and when he was appointed manager of the Bank of Africa branch in Grahamstown, he started to form an herbarium. In 1889 he was appointed manager at Barberton, and became so fascinated with the little-known flora of the surrounding mountains that he devoted all of his spare time to exploration and collection. He thought nothing of making the 800 m ascent to the top of Saddleback Mountain after leaving his office in the afternoon, or of walking 30 or 40 km up and down mountains on a Sunday. His specimens were carefully preserved and meticulously labelled, with notes on locality, habitat and a description of the plant, and he often prepared duplicates which were exchanged with other herbaria, including that at Kew Gardens, London. His collection grew to an enormous size and, containing as it did so many rarities, soon made an international impact. By 1916, when he gave his herbarium to the National Herbarium in Pretoria, he had amassed a collection of 16,000 sheets. He retired from the bank in 1917, bought a farm near Naboomspruit, and embarked on a detailed botanical study of the surrounding area. The results of this study were also sent to the National Herbarium.

The common name ‘Pride of the Cape’ should really read ‘Pride of De Kaap’, as it is after the De Kaap valley, south of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa, and not after the Cape of Good Hope. It is much more widespread than this, however, and can be found right across the moister bushveld of the republic. It is also found in Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Mozambique.

In its wild state this medium to large semi-deciduous shrub clambers through trees and shrubs of the dense thicket vegetation in which it occurs. It is easy to cultivate, and requires little attention once it is established. When it is in the garden, with a little pruning and training it can easily become an attractive small tree or large shrub. Alternatively, it can be encouraged in its clambering habit to cover a pergola or trellis. It is rather too exuberant for a small garden: it likes lots of space. It can make a good barrier plant along fences and boundaries.

The leaves are simple, up to 7 cm by 7 cm, very broadly ovate, but 2-lobed at the apex for about a quarter of the length, 3–5-veined from the base. The flowers are deep salmon to brick red; in the summer they appear for a long period in large clusters near the ends of the branches, and at other times sporadically. The seed pod is up to about 10 cm long, and brown when ripe.

In its native South Africa, its long, flexible branches are used for weaving baskets, and for the construction of roof trusses of huts.

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


Photographs taken in Arcadia 2009, 2011, 2017
Page last updated 19th October 2018