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Orchid Trees Are Lovely PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
February 2018

They’re also a major draw for hummingbirds

I Pix_YourGarden_2-18_1write a lot of articles about trees, but I try to mix my subjects to include other horticultural topics. I also like to include photos of pretty flowers and other eye-catching subjects, but I just couldn’t resist writing about the photo that accompanies this article.

The tree in the photo is a pretty beaten-up Hong Kong orchid tree, or Bauhinia purpurea. It usually blooms a couple of times a year and is quite beautiful, with its striking purple or pinkish flowers. It grows well in South Florida and is fairly common here. It’s also one of two Bauhinia species that Miami-Dade County exempts from tree removal permits. Many people may think it’s an invasive species, but if you’re inclined to cut this tree down, make sure you check the ordinances of your own local municipality.

We had several species of this tree at the Parrot Jungle. I remember in the cooler time of year, when the ruby-throated hummingbirds would migrate through our area, they always visited the flowers on these orchid trees in search of nectar. It was quite a sight to see up to a dozen hummingbirds zooming among the trees. We had some large orchid trees that had been well managed for over 30 years and which put out hundreds of blooms. If you ever visit Hong Kong and take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak at the right time of year, you’ll see a stunning view of orchid trees in bloom.

We planted a number of orchid tree species at Jungle Island. They were some of the first trees that bloomed for us. I even planted a couple of Bauhinia divaricata that we’d grown from seed at the park. This is an attractive tree of smaller stature and with pretty pink blooms, native to parts of the Caribbean and Central America. I rarely see this tree in the landscape locally, but it should be utilized more as an amenity tree.

The orchid trees I’ve worked with over the years are typically soft-wooded and short-lived. They don’t do well under poor pruning practices and are vulnerable to decay when damaged by branch loss, either from wind events or from the butchering by incompetent arborists. But when well managed structurally via proper pruning, your orchid trees can last for decades and become great assets to any landscape.

The tree in this photo has been damaged by high winds, which tore off some branches, as well as poor pruning practices. If I were assessing this tree, I’d rate it to be in poor condition; and if it were near any potential targets, like parked cars or areas where people pass, I’d recommend its removal. That wouldn’t be a tough decision, given the soft-wooded and decay-prone species profile.

Actually, this tree is located in a residential area -- and a few feet from a busy street. But what really stands out to me is the wire in the upper-left part of the photo that has an orange tag hanging from it.

This wire is attached to a large palm on the other side of the street by what appears to be rope. The wire has been tied high enough so that trucks can pass underneath it without pulling it down. I’m not sure if this is a power line, fiber optic cable, or some other important utility line, but the trees and palms in this area are being used to raise this line above ground, apparently so vehicles and the public don’t come into contact with it.

Now, this isn’t in some poor neighborhood in a Third World country, where sometimes poorly engineered situations like this occur. This is in a wealthy residential enclave here in South Florida.

Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age. But all of our municipalities have zoning codes, ordinances, and laws, and I’d certainly think that utility and other infrastructure companies have talented engineers, and arborists, on staff who should design and permit better stuff. But really? Even in South Florida?

Has anyone even looked at the condition and structural integrity of this tree and the others that have critical infrastructure tied to them, to be certain that they won’t be prone to failure? Isn’t this stuff hanging on these trees pretty expensive? Won’t the people who live in these multimillion-dollar residential properties be pissed when their power or Internet fails because a tree or palm couldn’t hold up the utility’s infrastructure?

I can just hear the deposition attorneys now: Mr.____ (or Ms. ___), who told you to connect this very critical and expensive cable to a tree, especially a tree prone to failure that is already in poor condition?

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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