Bauhinia purpurea: Orchid tree

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Orchid tree, Purple bauhinia, Butterfly tree, Purple orchid tree, Pink butterfly tree, Purple butterfly tree

An orchid tree in bloom is quite a sight to behold, covered with beautifully fragrant pink flowers. They can grow to a height of 15-17 feet and is commonly seen in India, by roadsides, parks and open areas. The leaves are quite unique, bilobed at the base and the tip, broad and smooth.

Orchid tree flowers are very pretty indeed, with 5 dark-pink petals shaped like an orchid flower. There are other variants as well, with plain white flowers, or with white flowers streaked with purple.

The flowers grow in clusters of 10-12 and are fragrant attracting pollinating insects to it. This tree belong to the Fabaceae family with long hanging seedpods containing 12-16 seeds. The seedpods can stay on the tree for a very long time. Once open, the seeds are released but seedpods can remain hanging on the tree like twisty Christmas decorations.

Seeds are tiny, about 1inch thick and about 1.5 inches in diameter; dispersed by wind or water. Orchid trees are deciduous, shedding leaves in autumn just after they finish the flowering season.

All tender parts of the tree are edible; the leaves, flower buds, flowers and seedpods are cooked and eaten. Young leaves and flowers are also eaten raw. Orchid tree leaves have a distinct lemony, sour taste and is used in dishes to add acidity and sourness.

The leaves are used to make poultices to treat burns, cuts, wounds, ulcers and swelling. The roots are used to treat stomach pain, diarrhea and indigestion; flowers are used as laxatives.

They are mostly grown as ornamental and shade trees, but the wood is sturdy enough to make small wooden handles and implements. The leaves are also useful as livestock fodder.

Propagation is through seeds.

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