Monday, February 29, 2016

Meet the Bauhinia Family - Orchid Trees

The Bauhinia is a genus that includes 250-500 species of trees, shrubs and woody vines, it a part of the larger Fabaceae (Bean or Pea) family.  Most of the members of this family are found in the tropical regions of Central America, South America, Southern North America, Mexico, The West Indies, Asia, Africa, and Australia.  Of them only 4 occur as naturalized in North America and 10 others are planted as ornamentals.  The varieties found in North America include, Orchid Tree/Mountain Ebony (Bauhinia variegeta), Napoleon's Plume (Bauhinia monandra), Purple Orchid Tree/Butterfly Tree (Bauhinia purpurea), and White Orchid Tree (Bauhinia aculeata).  

Image Citation: J.M.Garg (Own work) (], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Citation:  Fan Wen (Own work)

Depending on what region the Bauhinia's are planted in, they can occur as either deciduous or evergreen.  The leaves generally appear alternately, unifoliate, deeply notched at the tipped or Obcordate (heart shaped) and green in color.  Depending on the species the color of the flowers can range from a pure white, buttery yellow, orange, light pink, deep magenta, red or purple.  Flowers are 5-12 cm and all have five petals.  Flowering time also varies by species. The fruits generally appear in flattened legumes that contain the seeds, the legume size varies from 13-25 cm long.  The bark is gray and smooth becoming rougher with age. Most prefer acidic soils and do not tolerate salty or dry conditions well.

Image Citation: Joydeep, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Meet the Grand Eucalyptus - Eucalyptus grandis

The Grand Eucalyptus - Eucalyptus grandis is a very large evergreen tree that can reach heights of up to 180 feet tall in it's native range.  The trunk is straight with a single trunk and ascending branches topped with clumps of leaves.  The tree is native to Australia but has been naturalised in areas of both Central and Southern Florida.  The leaves of the Grand Eucalyptus are very similar to the Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) and the two are sometimes mistaken for one another.  Occasionally the Grand Eucalyptus is referred to as the Rose Gum.

Image Citation: Dennis Haugen,

The bark of the tree is mottled and shreds to reveal a smooth white, gray or green layer below.  The leaves are broadly lanceolate to ovate with either a rounded or heart shaped base.  Leaf tips taper to form an elongated point.  The upper leaf surface is a slightly lustrous dark green color with pale gray glandular undersides.  The flowers occur in vase shaped buds that are initially covered with a pointed conical cap, this cap eventually falls off revealing a puffed mass of white stamens in the Summer.  The fruit is a capsule approximately 8mm long that opens to reveal about 25 seeds each.  

Image Citation: Dennis Haugen,

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meet the Corkwood - Leiterneria floridana

The Leitneriaceae Family currently only contains one single species, the Corkwood Leiterneria floridana.  The Corkwood is a very sporadically distributed species found only in Northern Florida, Southeastern Texas, Eastern Arkansas and the far Southeastern region of Missouri.  It is most commonly found growing in swamp areas, depressions, ponds, roadside ditches or bordering tidal marshes.  It is easily recognized in it's native regions by it's very upright form combined with elliptical leaves, catkins, and tan colored lenticels found within the red-brown bark.   The Leitneriaceae florida is included on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as a "Near Threatened/Lower Risk" species because of its very small number (limited by a very small native range), thought they do not show a significant decline in the population.  Leiterneria floridana was only first discovered in 1835, in the saline marshes of Florida where the Apalachicola River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Image Citation: J.S. Peterson, hosted by the USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 24 February 2016)

The Corkwood is a small deciduous tree or shrub that only averages 15 feet in height at maturity.  Corkwoods always grow in a very upright form and generally have one single straight trunk with a narrow crown containing very few branches.  The leaves appear in alternately in simple narrow elliptical form.  The upper portions of each leaf is lustrous, leathery and medium green in color, while the lower surface is a more dull pale green.  The leaves have fine hairs on the surface when young, becoming hairless when mature.  The foliage is among the most persistent of the deciduous autumn leaves, remaining green till late November (in the more northern portions of it's range), then becoming greenish-yellow. The flowers are unisex with male and female flowers on separate plants.  The male flowers appear in upright grey-brown catkins that are 2-5 cm long,  while the female appear in reddish catkins that are 1-2 cm long.  The fruit occurs in a single seeded ellipsoid drupe that is yellow-brown in color.  The wood of the Corkwood is very fitting to it's name as it is extremely lightweight.  The wood is often compared to balsa wood and can be used in similar applications.  Corkwood is the lightest weight of all of the native Eastern North American trees.  Portions of the trunk/stems have even been used to craft fishing floats.

The Corkwood - Leiterneria floridana is not the same as the shrub also commonly known as Corkwood - Stillingia aquatica (of the Euphorbiaceae family).  The genus, Corkwood Leiterneria floridana is thought by many researchers to be related to the similarly pollenated quassia family (Simaroubaceae), though they retain very unique and identifiable features that easily separate the two.

In Italy a single compressed endocarp was collected from the Villa San Faustino site in Italy.  This single specimen shows that until the Early Pleistoncene period Leitneria venosa grew there.  Leitnera is also listed as a species found within the early Pliocene San Gimiginiano flora. Several other similar endocarps have been found on other sites in Northern Italy dating all the way up to the Cenozoic period, though rare. These fossils shows that the Leiterneria family was not always made up of this one single species but had other members with possibly a greater range then the Leiterneria floridana.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Meet the Jabuticabeira Tree or Brazilian Grape - Plinia cauliflora

The Jabuticabeira Tree or Brazilian Grape - Plinia cauliflora is a member of the Myraceae family and is native to Southeastern Brazil.  There are many species that are closely related and within the same family that are often referred to by the same common names.  Some of the most common names include Brazilian Grape Tree, Jabotica, Jaboticaba, Guapuru, Guaperu, Guarani, Hivapuru, Yvapura, and Sabara.

A slow growing evergreen that reaches 50 if left untrimmed.  It prefers moist and rich soils but is highly adaptable to varying locations if well tended to.  The flowers grow directly from the trunk in a cauliflorous form and are white in color.  In the wild they only flower and bear fruit once or twice annually, however when regularly irrigated and grown in tropical regions it flowers frequently and can bear fruit year round.  The bark of the tree is very similar to that of a Crepe Myrtle with a peeling appearence that reveals different shades/colors below.  The leaves begin a salmon color when the tree is young, changing to green with age.  

Image Citation:  Adamantiaf [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This species is grown primarily for the fruit which is purple to black thick fleshed berry with white pulp.  The fruit is generally 3-4 cm in diameter with 1-4 embedded inside.  The fruits can be eaten raw or used to make jams, jellies, tarts, desserts, wines and juices.  The fruit has a very short shelf life and can begin to ferment within just a few days of being removed from the tree, hence the common use in jellies and wine making.  

Traditional Brazilian medicine has long included the use of the sun dried skins in the treatment of hemoptysis, asthma, diarrhea, and inflammation of the tonsils, an astringent compound is made from the skins and gargled or ingested.  Research has also found the presence of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds within the fruit, the most notable is Jaboticabin.  

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis

The Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis, is also called Sharinga Tree, Rubberwood or Para Rubber Tree.  It was only originally found growing in the Amazon Rainforest but was planted in more widespread tropical and sub-tropical areas once the demand for it's naturally produced rubber increased.  This tree is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and has major economic value because of it's milky latex that naturally occurs within the tree.  Recorded uses of this and similar tree rubber/latex products date back to the Olmec people of Mesoamerica some 3600 years ago.  By the late 1800's rubber plantations were established in the British colonies, Java, and Malaya.  Today most rubber plantations outside of the native region occur in tropical portions of South/East Asia and West Africa. Cultivating in South America has not been satisfactory because of leaf blight this leaf blight is a major concern for plantations worldwide as it has not been cured or corrected and is thought to pose a threat to all varieties/clones growing today.

Image Citation: David Cappaert, Michigan State University,

This latex that occurs in the Rubber Tree is the primary source of natural rubber, it occurs in vessels within the bark just outside of the phloem. The vessels spirals up and around the tree in a right handed helix pattern forming an angle of about 30 degrees and occurring at heights of up to 45 feet.  In the wild the tree has been found to reach heights upwards of 100 feet, but this is not very common.  Trees grow at a much slower rate once they are tapped for latex and are generally cut down after about thirty years as they usually stop producing at this point so they no longer have economical value.  When harvesting cuts are made in the vessels but only deep enough to tap into them without harming the trees growth.  In order to grow these trees require tropical or sub-tropical climates, with no chance of frost.  One simple frost event can completely wipe out a plantation and be detrimental to production as the rubber becomes brittle and breaks.  Latex production is not very reliable the amount and quality is variable from tree to tree. When a tree is tapped (the process is called rubber tapping) the latex is collected in small buckets and looks almost similar to the process used to collect syrup from Maple trees.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Meet the Silk Floss Tree - Ceiba speciosa or Chorisia speciosa

The Silk Floss Tree (Ceiba speciosa or Chorisia speciosa ) is a beautiful tree that seems to grab attention year round. At one time this tree had it's own Genus (Chorisia) hence the secondary name that it is often still sold under today, but has since been reclassified within that original genus. The tree is native to tropical and subtropical areas of South America such as Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil.  It is a member of the Bombacaceae family, the same family as the Baobab, Kapok and Ceiba Chodatii.  It is often confused with and referred to by the same common names as the similar Ceiba chodatii

Image Citation: John Ruter, University of Georgia,

Silk floss trees grow in quick spurts when there is abundant amounts of water available, in moist growing conditions the tree can reaches heights of 82 feet.  Even with the potential for large growth the Silk floss tree is most commonly used for ornamental purposes, it is also used as a street tree in subtropical areas such as South Africa, Australia, Northern New Zealand and the Southern United States.  Recommended for hardiness zones 12-24, they are best suited for warm often dryer climates similar to Southern California.  It is resistant to drought and can also tolerate moderate cold.

Image Citation: John Ruter, University of Georgia,

When young the bark of the tree is quite green, this is due to the high chlorophyll content.  The high chlorophyll content allows the tree to continue the process of photosynthesis when the leaves are absent.  As the tree ages the bark darkens to a more gray color with various sized thorns covering the majority of the trunk area.  The trunk of the tree is shaped much like a bottle, with the lower 1/3 of the tree have a bulging appearance.  The branches generally grow in a horizontal fashion and are also covered with prickly thorns.  

Image Citation: Mauro Halpern (minha propria foto) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons - (Roadside Brasil)

The green palmate leaves are made up of five to seven elongated leaflets. The flowers are creamy white in the center and a bold/bright pink on the remaining portions of their five petals. They measure 4 to 6 inches in diameter and their shape is often compared to that of a hibiscus flower. The nectar attracts various insects including monarch butterflies, which aid in the pollination process. The flowers are in bloom between February and May (in the native regions of the Southern Hemisphere), but can also bloom at other times of the year depending on the location of the planting. The flowers of the often compared and related Ceiba chodatii are similar appearance, but their coloring is creamy white in the centers and yellow on the remaining portions of the petals.  The fruits appears in lignous ovoid pods, approximately 8 in long.  Each fruit/pod contains bean-sized black seeds surrounded by a mass of fibrous, fluffy matter often compared to cotton or spun silk.  It is possible to extract small amounts of vegetable oils (edible) from the seeds and the fibrous material can be used as a light stuffing or insulation material.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Meet the Chinese Wingnut - Pterocarya stenoptera

The Chinese Wingnut - Pterocarya stenoptera is a member of the Juglandaceae family. It is native to only China and can be grown in hardiness zones 6 to 8. A deciduous tree with a rounded and broadly spreading crown, the maximum height ranges from 50-70 feet tall with a spread of 50-70 feet. The Chinese Wingnut is considered to be easy to establish, and once established it is capable of tolerating some drought and soil compaction. Mature trees have agressive, shallow and also extensive root systems. The branches freely sucker if left untouched.they prefer well drained soil and full sunlight. Generally the Chinese Wingnut is planted as a shade tree as it requires a large area to reach full potential. The agressive root system could cause damage or issues if planted too close to sidewalks, foundations or other structures.

Image Citation: Fanghong - Own work, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons -

The name Chinese Wingnut comes from the unusual shape of the trees fruit. The fruit appear after the Spring flowering has occured. The fruit are small, green and winged nutlets, they develop in the female catkins during the early Summer. Each nutlet has two distinct wings and matures to a brown color in late Summer through early Fall, sometimes even remaining on the tree until Winter.

The flowers are light green and appear in pendulous catkins. The female catkins average about 20 inches long however the male only average 7 inches long. The flowers appear between May and June each year.

The leaves are compound and odd-pinnate, each leaf contains 11-25 shiny, elliptic-lanceolate, sharply toothed dark green leaflets 2-5 inches long. In most cases the terminal leaflet falls off making the leaves even-pinnate intead of odd-pinnate. In the fall the leaf color changes though not significantly to a more yellow-green.

Also in the same family (Walnut/Juglandaceae) is the Walnuts (Juglans), Hickory (Carya) and Wingnut (Pterocarya). The genus name for the wingnuts come from the Greek words ptero which means winged and karyon meaning nut. The Chinese Wingnut is often found hybridised with the Caucasian Wingnut which is very similar in all ways except the shape of the leaves and the type of wings on the fruits.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Meet The "Whitebeams" - Sorbus

There are multiple varieties of Whitebeams that are used in various settings most of which have simply shaped slightly rounded and broad leaves. Whitebeams are Old World trees native to the Northern Parts of the Eurasian landmass, from the British Isle to Japan.  The Common Whitebeam -Sorbus aria - also called the Chess-Apple is native to southern England and parts of Central Europe.The Lutescens which is used as a street tree because of it's tight egg shaped crown. The Majestica which is mainly found in France and has larger leaves. The Himalayan - Sorbus cuspidata is a vigorous tall growing tree, with thicker and longer leaves with shallow toothing and slight lobing.  The Wilfred Fox(a hybrid of the common and the Himalayan) this variety is strictly upright and does not have red fruit as the others do. The Finnish Whitebeam -Sorbus thuringiaca  (unknown origin) also a hybrid has a very different appearance then all of the other Whitebeams, it's leaves are not simply shaped they are instead deeply lobed or pinnate with 1-2 separate leaflets at the base of each leaf.  

ImageCitation: Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb,

Whitebeams are moderate sized trees, growing as tall as 60+ feet.  They withstand the harsh conditions of street type locations in European city suburbs.  The leaves are generally simply shaped, rounded and broad (except on the Finnish, theses are deeply loped) Green above and silver below.   The fruits appears in bunches of small berries, depending on the variety the berries are red, orange or sometimes brown.  The flowers are generally small and white in color, bisexual and usually arranged in large, branched corymbs, except on the Himalayan their flowers are larger and have a strong scent similar to the Hawthorn.  Flowers on the Whitebeams are smaller in size and number then the Mountain Ash, the berries also occur in lesser numbers.

Image Citation: Robert Vid├ęki, Doronicum Kft.,

Whitebeams are not commonly found growing in the United States as they are not native to our area.  When found they are primarily planted in park settings or as specimen trees but never growing wild.