Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the January 12, 2007 Newsletter, Issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

Purple Orchid Tree, BAUHINIA VARIEGATAMaybe the most spectacular flowering tree at this moment is a smallish Bean-Family member planted fairly regularly in people's yards and along roads. You can see one in full bloom at the right.

A close-up of its four-inch-wide, rose-colored flowers and one of its curious, cow-foot-shaped leaves is above.

This is the famous Purple Orchid Tree, BAUHINIA VARIEGATA, originally from India and China but now planted worldwide in the tropics. Wild members of the genus Bauhinia live here but they're not nearly as showy as this species. Like the Poinsianas I told you about last week, Purple Orchid Trees balance their gorgeous flowering periods with an ugly time, when they bear abundant, flat seedpods. Those seedpods snap open when they reach a certain state of dryness, scattering brown seeds everywhere.

I've always been partial to the genus Bauhinia because it's an easy Bean-Family member to identify. Especially in our scrub country there are so many Bean-Family members with feathery, compound leaves -- the Acacias, the Caesalpinias, the Mimosas, the Albizias, the Leucaneas, etc. -- that it's very hard to differentiate them, especially when they're not flowering, as is the case now. But, Bauhinias have those nice leaves with shallow clefts at their apexes, looking like a cow's hoof-print, almost yelling out the tree's identity.