Spathodea campanulata (African Tuliptree) – An evergreen tropical tree that reaches 50 to 80 feet in its native lands in Central Africa, but is more typically seen in California much smaller at around 25 to 35 feet tall by 15 to 25 feet wide. It is fast growing in youth, developing an upright rounded canopy and a thick trunk with rough gray bark and soft brittle branches and rusty brown stems holding attractive 18 inch long pinnately compound leaves with 4 to 6 inch long leathery leaflets that first emerge a bronze color and age to dark green. The large clusters of brilliant orange-red tulip-shaped flowers appear at branch tips in coastal California in late summer and fall, starting off as a baseball size cluster of brown velvety claw shaped buds that split open lengthwise to reveal the 3 inch wide by 5 inch deep tulip-like trumpet shaped orange-red flowers with ruffled edges that last several days. These open flowers are cup-shaped and hold rain and dew, making them attractive to many species of birds. Plant in full sun in a warm location (south-facing slopes or sides of a building are best in our cool coastal climate) in well-drained soil and irrigate occasionally. It is an evergreen tree in the tropics that can go drought deciduous and in our mild climate area will stop flowering and often go deciduous in late fall or at first frost, but in warm winters can flower through the winter, however it can freeze to hard wood when temperatures go much below freezing (28-30° F depending on duration). There are reports that roots might possibly surviving to even lower temperatures, but it is best planted in USDA zones 10 – 11. It can also be grown close to the ocean with some protection from sea breezes (Zone 2) but seems to like the warmer temperatures afforded to it a bit further back from the beach. Spathodea campanulata comes from dry humid forests and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa from Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia but it is now planted worldwide. Spathodea campanulata is monotypic (the only species in its genus) and first observed in 1787 along the Gold Coast in now what is Ghana by the French naturalist Ambrose Maria Francis Joseph Palisot de Beauvois, who later described it in his Flora D’Oware et de Benin in 1805. The name comes from the Ancient Greek words ‘spathe’ meaning “spathe” or “boat shaped” and ‘odes’ meaning “like” or “of the nature of” in reference to the large boat shaped calyx. The specific epithet is also a reference to the campanulate or “bell shaped” flowers. Besides African Tuliptree other common names include Fountain Tree, Pickari, Nandi flame and Squirt tree (because the nectar in the selling flower buds can be squirted out). Though noted as one of the world’s most beautiful trees, Spathodea campanulata is also listed as one of the worst of weeds. Though not so in California, it is considered invasive in Hawaii, Queensland (Australia), Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka. We grow this tree from seed but grow the more uncommon yellow flowering form, which is a grafted plant and list it as Spathodea campanulata ‘Aurea’. There are nice plantings of this African Tuliptree as street trees in Santa Barbara on lower Alisos Street on the lower eastside as well as large specimens on the UCSB campus. There are also nice specimens in Balboa Park and San Diego State University in San Diego, CA, at the San Diego Botanic Gardens (Quail Botanical Gardens) in Encinitas, CA and at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, CA. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Spathodea campanulata.
- Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet
- Scientific Name
- Common Names
- Naturalised Distribution
- Distinguishing Features
- Stems and Leaves
- Flowers and Fruit
- Reproduction and Dispersal
- Environmental Impact
- Similar Species
- African Tulip Tree Information: How To Grow African Tulip Trees
- Is African Tulip Tree Invasive?
- How to Grow African Tulip Trees
- African Tulip Tree Care
- African Tulip
- from our stores – Pickupflowers – the flower expert
- Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree)
- Create your free Shoot garden
- How to care
- Get access to monthly care advice
- Where to grow
- The Private Naturalist
Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet
Spathodea campanulata P. Beauv.
Spathodea campanulata P. Beauv. subsp. nilotica (Seem.) Bidgood
African tulip, African tulip tree, African tulip-tree, African tuliptree, fireball, flame of the forest, flame tree, fountain tree, fountaintree
Widely cultivated as a garden and street tree. A yellow-flowered cultivar, known as yellow African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata ‘Aurea’), is also occasionally grown as an ornamental in Australia.
This species is not yet widely naturalised, but it is cultivated throughout large parts of the country as a garden plant and street tree. It has a scattered distribution in the coastal areas of central and northern Queensland and is present in the northern parts of the Northern Territory. It is also becoming naturalised on Christmas Island and in south-eastern Queensland.
A tree that invades abandoned agricultural land, roadsides, waterways, disturbed sites, waste areas, forest margins and disturbed rainforests in tropical and sub-tropical regions. It favours wetter habitats, and is especially common along creeks and gullies.
A large upright tree (growing up to 25 m tall) with a spreading crown and a slightly buttressed trunk.
- a large tree with large compound leaves arranged in pairs along the branches.
- its large and very showy flowers (10-12 cm long) are borne in clusters at the tips of the branches.
- these flowers are orange-red, somewhat tulip-shaped, and have yellowish crinkled margins.
- its large elongated capsules (up to 30 cm long) resemble pods and split open to release numerous papery seeds.
Stems and Leaves
The branches are thick and marked with small whitish-coloured corky spots (i.e. lenticels). Younger branches vary from being almost hairless (i.e. sub-glabrous) to having a sparse covering of small hairs (i.e. puberulent).
The large leaves (up to 50 cm long) are compound (i.e. pinnate) with 7-17 leaflets. These leaves are usually oppositely arranged along the stems and are borne on stalks (i.e. petioles) up to 6 cm long. The leaflets (up to 15 cm long and 7.5 cm wide) are broadly oval (i.e. elliptic) or egg-shaped in outline (i.e. ovate) and have entire margins. They have a sparse covering of soft hairs (i.e. they are puberulent) and the extension of the leaf stalk (i.e. the rachis) is usually covered in brownish coloured hairs. At the base of each leaflet there are usually two or three tiny raised structures (i.e. glands).
Flowers and Fruit
The large and very showy flowers are arranged in dense clusters (8-10 cm long) at the tips of the branches (i.e. in terminal racemes) on stalks (i.e. peduncles) up to 10 cm long. Individual flowers are borne on short stalks (i.e. pedicels) that are covered in brownish-coloured hairs. These flowers have sepals that are fused into a horn-shaped structure (i.e. calyx tube) that splits along one side as the flowers open. This distinctive horn-shaped calyx is curved upward, somewhat ribbed, and brownish in colour (about 5 cm long). The reddish-orange coloured petals (10-12 cm long) are also fused together (i.e. into a corolla tube) and are shaped somewhat like a tulip flower (i.e. they are tubular). The mouth of the flower is about 7 cm across and has several indistinct lobes with crinkled (i.e. crisped) margins that are yellowish in colour. Each flower also has four stamens with large dark brown anthers (about 15 mm long) that are borne on stalks (i.e. filaments) about 5 cm long. They also have a long yellow style (8 cm long) topped with a reddish stigma. Flowering occurs throughout the year, but usually peaks during spring.
The large and elongated capsules (17-30 cm long and 3.5-5 cm wide) resemble pods. They are slightly flattened and turn from green to brown in colour as they mature. When mature they split open and release about 500 papery seeds. These seeds are very light and surrounded by a see-through (i.e. translucent) membranous wing.
Reproduction and Dispersal
This plant reproduces mostly by seeds, which are light and usually released from a significant height. Larger trees may also spread via root suckers, particularly when they are damaged.
Seeds are most commonly wind-dispersed, but they may also be spread by water (if plants are growing along waterways) and in dumped garden waste.
African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is regarded as a significant environmental weed in Queensland, the Northern Territory, and on Christmas Island. It is also regarded as a potential environmental weed or “sleeper weed” in northern New South Wales and other parts of northern Australia.
This species is also listed in the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD), and is regarded to be among the top 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien Species.
This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:
- Queensland: Class 3 – this species is primarily an environmental weed and a pest control notice may be issued for land that is, or is adjacent to, an environmentally significant area (throughout the entire state). It is also illegal to sell a declared plant or its seed in this state.
- Western Australia: Unassessed – this species is declared in other states or territories and is prohibited until assessed via a weed risk assessment (throughout the entire state).
For information on the management of this species see the following resources:
- the Biosecurity Queensland Fact Sheet on this species, which is available online at http://www.daff.qld.gov.au.
African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is very distinctive, and is rarely confused with other species.
Fact sheets are available from Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) service centres and our Customer Service Centre (telephone 13 25 23). Check our website at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au to ensure you have the latest version of this fact sheet. The control methods referred to in this fact sheet should be used in accordance with the restrictions (federal and state legislation, and local government laws) directly or indirectly related to each control method. These restrictions may prevent the use of one or more of the methods referred to, depending on individual circumstances. While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this information, DEEDI does not invite reliance upon it, nor accept responsibility for any loss or damage caused by actions based on it.
African Tulip Tree Information: How To Grow African Tulip Trees
What is an African tulip tree? Native to Africa’s tropical rainforests, African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is a big, impressive shade tree that grows only in the non-freezing climates of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and above. Want to know more about this exotic tree? Interested in knowing how to grow African tulips trees? Keep reading to find out.
Is African Tulip Tree Invasive?
A cousin to the rambunctious trumpet vine, African tulip tree tends to be invasive in tropical climates, such as Hawaii and southern Florida, where it forms dense thickets that interfere with native growth. It is less problematic in drier climates like southern California and central or northern Florida.
African Tulip Tree
African tulip tree is indeed an impressive specimen with gigantic, reddish-orange or golden yellow trumpet-shaped flowers and huge, glossy leaves. It can reach heights of 80 feet, but growth is usually limited to 60 feet or less with a width of about 40 feet. The flowers are pollinated by birds and bats and the seeds are scattered by water and wind.
How to Grow African Tulip Trees
African tulip trees are somewhat difficult to grow by seed but easy to propagate by taking tip or root cuttings, or by planting suckers.
As far as growing conditions, the tree tolerates shade but performs best in full sunlight. Similarly, although it is relatively drought tolerant, African tulip tree is happiest with plenty of moisture. Although it likes rich soil, it will grow in nearly any well-drained soil.
African Tulip Tree Care
Newly planted African tulip trees benefit from regular irrigation. However, once established, the tree requires little attention. It is rarely bothered by pests or disease, but may temporarily shed its leaves during periods of severe drought.
African tulip trees should be pruned regularly because the branches, which tend to be brittle, break easily in harsh winds. For this reason, the tree should be planted away from structures or smaller trees that may be damaged.
African tulip flowers give a very brilliant color because of which when the African Tulip tree is in full bloom, it is a showstopper.
Spathodea is a monotypic genus of flowering plants – with a single species, Spathodea campanulata, commonly known as the African tulip tree or Fountain tree or Flame-of-the-forest. African tulips are open and branched, evergreen trees of African forests.
Kingdom Plantae Division Magnoliophyta Class Magnoliopsida Order Lamiales Family Bignoniaceae Genus Spathodea Species campanulata
African Tulips produce terminal clusters of beautiful blooms held above the foliage appearing in upturned whorls at the branch tips. A few at a time, the buds of the lowest tier bend outward and open into large bell-shaped orange-red flowers with a yellow border on the petals and four brown-anthered stamens in the center. They are followed by 5-10 in green brown fingerlike pods pointing upwards and outwards above the foliage.
Facts About African tulips
- The generic name comes from the Greek word, in reference to the spathe-like calyx.
- African tulip is native to tropical Africa.
- African tulip tree grows to about 7-25 m tall.
- African Tulip flower is a decorative tree, because of their beautiful red tulip-like flowers.
- African Tulip is also known as the fountain tree because of the water sealed in the flower buds, and if you were to slice it open, it would squirt out like a fountain.
- African Tulip flowers are especially adapted for hummingbird pollination.
from our stores – Pickupflowers – the flower expert
Growing African tulips
Unfortunately, African Tulip is one of the most difficult trees to be recommended for residential or commercial landscapes because it can cause havoc with its rapid growth, shallow roots, weak branches and susceptibility to wind damage.
- The African tulip tree needs a full sun.
- Dig an area for the African tulip tree that is about 3 or 4 times the diameter of the container or rootball and the same depth as the container or rootball.
- The African tulip tree needs a well darained soil.
- Add a 3 inches layer of pinestraw, compost, or pulverized bark over backfilled area.
African tulips plant care
- Make sure plants are regularly watered.
- Leaf drop and plant death can occur with heavy infestations.
- Keep a watch on the undersides of the leaves since spider mites generally live there.
Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree)
African tulip tree, Flame of the forest, Flame tree, Fountain tree, Nandi flame
S. campanulata – S. campanulata is a tender, open, evergreen tree with pinnate leaves divided into oblong to ovate, leathery, dark green leaflets and, in spring and summer, panicles or racemes of bell-shaped, scarlet flowers with yellow petal margins. Flowers are followed by woody, orange-brown seed pods containing papery, winged seeds.
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Scarlet in Spring; Scarlet in Summer
Dark-green in All seasons
How to care
Watch out for
Generally disease free.
Pruning group 1. Limbs are brittle so may need pruning after strong storms.
Sow seed at 18-24C in spring. Air layer in spring.
Layering, Seed, Semi-ripe cuttings
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Where to grow
Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) will reach a height of 25m and a spread of 18m after 20 years.
Specimen tree, City, Architectural, Sub-Tropical
In frost-free areas, grow in moderately-fertile, moist or moist well-drained soil in a sheltered, sunny site. Tolerates light shade but flowering will be reduced. May lose leaves in dry periods or after light frost. Under glass, grow in a large container in loam-based compost in full light, Water freely & feed monthly in growth. Considered an invasive species in some non-native, tropical areas.
Chalky, Loamy, Sandy
Moist but well-drained, Moisture-retentive
Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
South, East, West
UK hardiness Note: We are working to update our ratings. Thanks for your patience.
Indoor heated (H1), Tender in frost (H3)
Zone 11, Zone 10
The Private Naturalist
Atop the itinerary of most first-time visitors to Maui is a day trip to view the rain forests on the road to Hana… the Hana Highway. One of the first trees to grab your attention as you enter the rainforest canopy is a tall fellow with wide-spreading branches overflowing with impossibly bright-red flowers, the African Tulip Tree. But curb your enthusiasm, malahini… it’s a WEED!
The African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) is a shade-tolerant, evergreen tree native to equatorial Africa. It is a member of the Bignoniaceae Family, which includes the Jacaranda (also growing on Maui). It is also known as Flame Tree, Fountain Tree, Indian Cedar, and Santo Domingo Mahogany.
African Tulip Tree blossoms.
(Click on image for a larger version.)
Although it was originally introduced to The Islands as a domesticated ornamental tree, the African Tulip Tree has escaped cultivation and invaded agricultural land, forest plantations, and natural forests; it is now one of the dominant canopy trees in all of Hawaii’s rain forests and has become a serious threat to the biodiversity of that ecosystem.
An African Tulip Tree in full bloom along the Hana Highway.
(Click on image for a larger version.)
The African Tulip Tree is a tall tree, growing to more than 75 feet (30 m) in some habitats. It favors moist and wet areas from sea level to 1,000 m throughout Hawaii. The flower’s calyx is a leathery sack filled with watery sap (which attracts many ants, though the flower’s aroma is quite foul) from which blooms a bright scarlet-orange flower that grows in large terminal clusters. It sets flowers year-round, but the most prolific flowering occurs in Winter through Spring. The fruit consists of clusters of upright, canoe-shaped capsules about 10 inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter; these contain hundreds of small flat winged seeds that are easily disbursed by the wind. The seed pods are buoyant and so are easily carried off by streams and surf action to germinate far from the parent tree. The tree also propagates readily from root suckers, broken root pieces, and fallen branches.
Rain forests and drier mesic forests are very susceptible to invasion by this tree. Its high reproductive rate and capacity allow it to colonize disturbed areas (either created by human activity or by storms) at the expense of native plant species. Once established in an area, the tree grows rapidly and it can easily exceed the height of the native flora and shade it. Furthermore, this tree has no natural enemies in the Pacific region.
If the African Tulip Tree replaces native tree species, the effect on the biodiversity of Hawaii’s forests would be disastrous because so many of the native species support numerous tree-dependent flora, such as vines and epiphytes.
Tags: African Tulip Tree, Bignoniaceae, Bignoniaceae Family, botany of Hawaii, botany of Maui, evergreen trees, Flame Tree, flowering trees, Fountain Tree, Hawaiian plants, Indian Cedar, invasive species, Maui’s rainforest plants, noxious weeds, plant life of Hawaii, plants of Hawaii, plants of maui, Santo Domingo Mahogany, Spathodea campanulata, trees, weeds
Native to West Africa, Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) is frequently viewed as a shade-intolerant invader. It commonly colonizes roadsides, human-disturbed forests, and abandoned agricultural land in tropical islands, where it can then become dominant in secondary forests. Some authors have suggested that the seedlings may be shade-tolerant and able to establish in closed-canopy forest, but the shade tolerance of seedlings has never been evaluated. We identified tolerated light environments of S. campanulata seedlings in wet forests in Hawai‘i by measuring photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) around naturally occurring seedlings (<30 cm height) in the field. We also measured photosynthetic responses of seedlings to light under field and laboratory conditions and determined seedling growth rates in sun and shade. Seedlings were found in shaded conditions in the field, and they consistently had positive net carbon gain at 50 µmol photons m-2.sec-1 PAR, with an estimated mean compensation point below 10 µmol photons m-2.sec-1, indicating high shade tolerance. The most frequent midday light environments of S. campanulata seedlings in the field were in the range of 50 to 200 µmol photons m-2.sec-1 PAR (i.e., 2.5% to 10% of full sunlight). Among seedlings found growing in shade, minimum saturating light (Ek), determined from chlorophyll fluorescence, averaged 260 µmol photons m-2.sec-1, suggesting that maximum seedling photosynthesis can occur at less than 13% of full sun. Growth rates of young seedlings in shade and sun were comparable. Widespread wind dispersal of seeds, seedling tolerance of low light, and our observations of some S. campanulata saplings establishing in rain forest without recent disturbance suggest that S. campanulata will be a persistent component of Hawaiian lowland rain forests.
It is a large tree, deciduous in drier places during the hot weather, but never quite bare in other places. The leaves fall during February, then in March and April new ones appear in profusion, together with magnificent clusters of orange and crimson flowers. These are borne on the ends of the branchlets and are first heavy compact masses of dark olive-green, velvety buds, in up-turning whorls. The buds in the lower circle then bend out and burst into fiery bloom – large crumpled bells, crimson and orange in color. Four brown anthered stamens rise from the centre. The tree is now aglow, dozens of scarlet torches stand out in brilliant contrast to the deep-green of the foliage.
By the end of April all the flowers have fallen but at several times during the rest of the year odd clusters will appear and there is quite a definite flowering period between October and December.
The leaves, which mass towards the ends of the branches, are large and smooth. They consist of from four to nine pairs of 2-inch leaflets and a terminal one. These are oval in shape and fairly deeply veined. Very young leaves are downy underneath.
The fruits appear like the fingers of a hand, pointing upwards and outwards above the foliage. Each one is some 6 or 8 inches long, green and brown in color and smooth.
The name Fountain Tree and many of the African vernacular names originated because the soft buds often contain a quantity of liquid and small boys discovered that by sqeezing them they could be made to emit a jet like a water squirt. African hunters make use of the hard nuts by boiling the centres and thus obtaining a poisonous liquid. Tulip Tree wood is difficult to burn and makes poor firewood but because of this property it is ideal for constructing the sides of blacksmiths bellows.
Spathodea is a Greek word meaning “spathe” – referring to the ladle-like shape of the calices, and campanulata describes the bell-shape of the flowers.
There is also a yellow flower variety.