For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yellow Bauhinia Tree (Bauhinia tomentosa)

Yellow Bauhinia Tree (Bauhinia tomentosa) family Fabaceae

This medium to large shrub with its attractive light green two-lobed leaves produces beautiful bright yellow flowers with black to maroon coloured centres from December to March.

Medium to large shrub to a small tree, up to 4m in height. Leaves are divided into two lobes, light green in colour, with a leathery texture, carried on branches that are often drooping. It produces large bell-shaped, bright yellow flowers with a black to deep maroon coloured centre from December to March. The fruit are pea like, slender and velvety. They are light green, turning a pale brown with age and are produced from January to June or even later. Bark is grey or brown.

These plants can be found along the coastal strip from southern Kwazulu-Natal to Maputoland, Mpumalanga as well as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, tropical Africa and as far as India and Sri Lanka . It is found in woodland, riverine bush and coastal dune bush.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name " Bauhinia " honours herbalist brothers from the 16 th century, Johann and Caspar Bauhin. They were identical twin brothers, making it a very apt name as the two lobes of the leaves, when folded together, are identical.

Previously a large genus, it has now been divided into a number of genera according to the flower shapes. Several South African bauhinias are in cultivation including the well-know Pride of De Kaap - Bauhinia galpinii and Bauhinia bowkeri.

The specie name "tomentosa" means hairy and it refers to the velvety/ hairy pods.


The flowers from this tree, rich in pollen and nectar, attract various insects such as butterflies and bees. In turn these insects will attract insect eating birds. Certain birds and the larvae of certain moth species feed on the flowers. This is also a host plant for many butterfly species, with the larvae feeding on the leaves.

 Uses and cultural aspects

Not much is known about the specific medicinal or cultural uses of this specie of Bauhinia, although it is said to be used widely medicinally.

Three other species of Bauhinia are also used medicinally for everything from coughs, convulsions and constipation to pneumonia and venereal diseases. ( Bauhinia galpinii, Bauhinia thonningii, Bauhinia petersiana)

 Growing Bauhinia tomentosa

Bauhinia tomentosa is deciduous, but can be evergreen in a mild climate. The adult plants can tolerate a moderate amount of frost, but the seedlings and younger plants should be shielded from frost. It prefers full sun and needs a moderate amount of water.

It can be propagated from seed and grows relatively fast. Plant it singly or in groups. It is suitable for rockeries, shrub borders, and large containers, on patios or next to swimming pools.

The soil needs to be well drained with compost added to enrich it. A covering of mulch over the soil is a good idea, replenishing the layer as regularly as possible.
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