Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 22, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO

For over a month a Purple Orchid Tree has been blossoming prettily in the Hacienda's back lawn, easily visible from the restaurant. Below, you can see two of its bright, rose-colored, three-inch-long flowers (8cm):

Hybrid Orchid Tree, BAUHINIA x BLAKEANA, flowers

Seeing the flowers, I remembered our first encounter with Purple Orchid Trees back in Querétaro in north-central Mexico, in 2007. Purple Orchid Trees are Bauhinia viriegata of the Bean Family, and on our page for the species you can see its big, purple flower and its cow-hoof-shaped leaves -- typical of the genus Bauhinia -- at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/bauhin-1.htm

But, here at the Hacienda, week after week I've been watching this beautifully flowering tree, with a growing feeling that something curious was going on. Below, you can see what struck me as strange:

Hybrid Orchid Tree, BAUHINIA x BLAKEANA, flowers on naked racemes

Back in Querétaro orchid trees had a reputation for being very pretty during flowering season, but later when they were heavy with their crop of brown, legume-type fruits, a bit scraggly. In the above picture we see long racemes on which several flowers have opened, then fallen off, never resulting in a legume. A "normal" orchid tree having produced so many flowers by now would bear a prodigious crop of fruits. I figured I'd better check on this, so I got a picture clearly showing our Hacienda tree's leaf shape and venation, for when I "did the botany." The leaves are shown below:

Hybrid Orchid Tree, BAUHINIA x BLAKEANA, leaves

It turns out that our Hacienda tree is a sterile hybrid between two of the most planted Bauhinia trees, Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata. The first such hybrid appeared over a hundred years ago in a garden in Hong Kong. It was cultivated in the Hong Kong Botanical Garden, and in 1908 a specimen from there was introduced to science under the name BAUHINIA x BLAKEANA, honoring Sir Henry Arthur Blake and his wife; Sir Henry was the British governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903, and a supporter of the Hong Kong Botanical Garden. Soon "Blake's Hybrid Orchid Tree" was planted throughout the tropics worldwide, its main attraction being long-term flowering resulting in no messy legumes.

Both parent species of Bauhinia x blakeana are native to southeastern Asia. The gorgeous hybrid caused such a stir in Hong Kong that it was adopted as the emblem for Hong Kong, and made its way onto the Hong Kong flag. The early flag's blossom halfway looked like a Bauhinia flower but the new communist one is so stylized that it could be any number of flower types, as you can see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Hong_Kong.

And one just wonders what chain of events and intermediaries brought the pretty little tree here to the Hacienda's backyard.