COMMON NAMES: ORCHID TREE, ANACACHO ORCHID TREE, CROW FOOT
Bauhinia congesta (B. lunarioides) (baw-HIN-ee-ah kun-JESS-tah)
FABACEAE (LEGUMINOSAE) Legume, bean or pulse family
Deciduous small tree for understory
HEIGHT: 6-10 feet
SPREAD: 6-10 feet
FINAL SPACING: 10-12 feet
NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE: Although rare in Texas, orchid tree is found in the canyons and arroyos in the Anacacho Mountains in Kinney County and in landscapes in the southern part of the state. It can stand down to 10° and does well in Austin, Houston and San Antonio climates. It would be marginal in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It will grow in a wide range of well-drained soils from clay and rocky soils to sandy loams. It is best used as an understory tree and seems to like limestone conditions.
IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION: Orchid trees are usually multi-trunked, deciduous and have beautiful light green leaves that are divided at the base into 2 leaflets. These interesting trees have showy flowers in the spring and yellow fall color.
FLOWERS AND FRUIT: Orchid-like flowers are white or pale pink with long stamens (male reproductive parts). Fruit is a flattened legume 1-3 inches long containing 1-4 oblong, smooth, flattened brown seed. The pods twist open and quickly drop the seed when ripe and dry.
BARK: Thin and gray when young becoming brown, darker and rougher in texture with age.
FOLIAGE: The leaves are quite distinctive appearing as one broad deeply cleft, hoof-shaped leaf although it is actually two leaflets. Each leaflet is ½ inch to 1 ½ inches long.
CULTURE: Orchid tree easily grows in any well-drained soil if protected from harsh winter temperatures. It is drought tolerant and needs little fertilizer or pest control.
PROBLEMS: Freeze damage possibilities in the northern half of the state. Best to plant in protected spots.
PROPAGATION: Collect the seed pods in the summer when they have turned brown but before they open. Air dry the pods a few days, dust with natural diatomaceous earth and store in glass in a cool place if necessary. The seed can be planted without treatment outdoors the following spring after the last frost. Look for germination within 3 weeks and transfer the seedlings to 1 gallon containers when they have 4-6 true leaves.
INSIGHT: Orchid tree is a terrific specimen tree. Even if you live in the northern part of the state, try it in pots and move to a protected area in the winter.