Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 4:23 pm | Overcast 64º


Santa Barbara Beautiful’s Trees of the Month, Orchid Trees, Put on Spring Floral Show

Although orchid trees are unrelated to the orchid plant, their flowers, such as these specimens from a lavender orchid tree, closely resemble the similarly named beauties. Click to view larger
Although orchid trees are unrelated to the orchid plant, their flowers, such as these specimens from a lavender orchid tree, closely resemble the similarly named beauties. (David Gress photo)

Each spring, orchid trees put on an amazing floral show all over town. For this reason, Santa Barbara Beautiful has chosen them as their current Tree-of-the Month.

When people see orchid trees for the first time, they find it hard to believe that any tree could be covered with such beautiful, fragrant, orchid-like flowers. In addition, the trees have distinctive, double-lobed leaves that look like butterfly wings.

Orchid trees are not true orchids — they are actually legumes and are related to common peas and beans. Being small- to medium-sized, they can fit into almost any landscape. Being beautiful in flower and leaf, they are much loved and often planted here.

All orchid trees are species in the genus Bauhinia. In Santa Barbara, three species can be seen: the lavender orchid tree (Bauhinia variegata), the Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana) and the Brazilian orchid tree (Bauhinia forficata).

However, they are not indigenous to our area: lavender orchid trees and Hong Kong orchid trees are native to Southeast Asia, while Brazilian orchid trees are native to Brazil, Argentina and Peru.

They all do well in our Mediterranean climate and are fairly drought tolerant after they are established.

Lavender orchid trees are street trees on the 700 and 800 blocks of Olive Street, 100 and 200 blocks of West Islay Street and 400 block of East De La Guerra Street.

Outstanding individuals are found at the northeast corner of Carrillo and Garden Streets and in the city parking lot on the 1000 block of Anacapa Street.

A lavender orchid tree located in Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. Click to view larger
A lavender orchid tree located in Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. (David Gress photo)

Now is the time to go out to see lavender orchid trees, since they will be at their peak bloom for the next couple of weeks.

Hong Kong orchid trees are street trees on the 100 and 200 blocks of East Padre Street. Notable individuals are at the southeast corner of the County Courthouse and at the southwest corner of De La Guerra and Olive Streets.

Both lavender and Hong Kong orchid trees are street trees can be found on the 800 block of Spring Street.

The Brazilian orchid trees are street trees on the 600 and 700 block of State Street. They will have white flowers in late summer.

If you wish to enjoy them all in one place, all three species have been planted in Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. Enjoy them all in one place!

David Gress resides on the board of Santa Barbara Beautiful.

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