Spathodea campanulata: African tulip tree

Family: Bignoniaceae
Common name: African tulip tree, Fountain tree, Pichkari, Nandi flame

A native of Africa, these trees are now seen adorning gardens and hillsides all over the world. In India, it is a popular roadside tree due to its bright orange-red flowers that light up the tree during spring. These trees can grow to a height of 10-25 meters with pinnately compound leaves. The main trunk is stout and slightly tapering towards the top; producing thick, sturdy branches.

The most attractive feature is the football-sized inflorescence with deep orange-red flowers. The buds are horn-like, upturned, dull-green in color and arranged in circular whorls. Flowering stars along the outermost perimeter of the whorl with some of the outer buds opening into flowers. The flowers are red with orange, crinkly edges; orange center with red venation; and a prominent stamen.

The fruit pods are also very interesting. They are 5-10 inches long, dark green and pointing upwards like swords. When mature, they burst open releasing 400-500 thin papery seeds. African tulip trees are considered invasive in some parts of the world, but most countries consider them the most beautiful of all flowering trees. A unique feature of this tree that children love; is the nectar-filled flower buds that when squeezed, shoots out water that can reach upto 8 feet.

African tulip trees like full sunlight and warmth, and lot of water. If you have corner in your garden, waiting for the right tree, these trees can bring in the color and exuberance you were looking for. The wood of this tree is soft, and cannot be used for making furniture. But they make good homes for tree-boring birds and insects.

The tree has some medicinal uses, in treatment of malaria, diabetes, skin disorders, stomach ailments and more. Flowers and leaves are used in treating wounds.

Propagation is from seeds and stem cuttings.

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