Often plants are listed as invasive due to their ability to drop their seeds (and subsequent seedlings) all over the place. What if there was a variety or cultivar of a particular plant that was sterile and had no seeds to cause a weedy infestation? Such is the case of the Hong Kong orchid tree – a beautiful flowering tree with gorgeous orchid-like blossoms, but no seeds! What is the Hong Kong orchid tree all about?
Originally found in China, every Hong Kong orchid tree is an identical clone via air-layering or grafting. Vegetative reproduction was the only method to multiply this tree as no seeds are ever produced. Growing up to thirty-five feet tall and twenty-five feet wide, the Bauhinia x blakeana has large, up to six-inch, lavender-pink flowers. In fact, the Hong Kong orchid tree is in flower for over one-hundred days a year – on or about October to March. The two-lobed leaves are very notable and unlike any other foliage you may have seen before.
Honk Kong orchid trees are usable as a lawn specimen tree, a medium-sized shade tree, or one planted in conjunction with a patio or deck. They are relatively fast growing and thus have moderately weak wood. Somewhat awkward and open as a young tree, proper pruning and training will help develop more wind-tolerant branches. This Bauhinia can be semi-deciduous to completely deciduous for a very short time and a bit messy in consideration to the old blossoms and leaves.
Our relatively alkaline soils may cause some nutrient deficiencies to develop in the leaves – especially potassium and iron. As such, some supplemental fertilizer may be needed to keep the foliage in good color. The Hong Kong orchid tree is moderately salt-tolerant and is noted to be very drought tolerant once established.
While the Hong Kong orchid tree is the recommended Bauhinia, there is one type to avoid - the orchid tree or mountain-ebony. Known as Bauhinia variegata, this one is considered a Category I invasive as listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. It does not bloom as long as the Hong Kong orchid tree and produces many seed pods capable of making lots of invasive orchid trees.
The Hong Kong orchid tree will be the only orchid tree you will ever need! For more information on all types of woody ornamental flowering plants, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. ( 2014) Bauhinia blakeana: Hong Kong Orchid Tree. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Brown, S. H. (2015) Bauhinia x blakeana. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County.
Caldwell, D. (2013) Hong Kong Orchid Trees Are Long Flowering for Snow Birds. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. http://fleppc.org/ .
Broschat, T. K. (2014) Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms of Woody Ornamental Plants in South Florida. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.