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How to Grow Bauhinia – Brazilian Butterfly Tree 

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Bauhinia–commonly called orchid tree or Brazilian butterfly tree–are large shrubs and trees commonly grown for their orchid-like flowers. Bauhinia are tender plants grown in Hawaii, central and southern Florida, and mild-winter areas of California and Arizona. 

Bauhinia is not fussy about soil as long as the soil is well-drained.

Bauhinia is a genus of about 250 species of evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers. Large shrub and tree species are grown in gardens.

Bauhinia, orchid tree
Bauhinia, orchid tree

Get to know Bauhinia 

  • Plant type: Evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 13-15 
  • Hardiness: Not frost tolerant
  • Height and width: To 25-40 feet (8-12m) tall and 10-25 feet (3-8m) wide 
  • Growth rate: Fast 
  • Form and habit: Umbrella shaped 
  • Foliage: 3-4 inch (8-10cm) leaves are alternate, simple, and often 2-lobed 
  • Flowers: Dramatic, faintly fragrant orchid-like flowers with five irregular petals 
  • Fruits: 6-8 inch (15-20cm) flat brown seedpods 
  • Bloom time: Winter and early spring 
  • Uses: Specimen plants, border, shade, lining suburban street, lawn ornament  
  • Common name: Brazilian butterfly tree, orchid tree 
  • Botanical name: Bauhinia 
  • Family name: Fabaceae 
  • Origin: Tropical and subtropical regions from Hawaii, central and southern Florida to California and Arizona 

Where to plant Bauhinia 

  • Plant Bauhinia in fertile, moist but well-drained soil. 
  • Plant Bauhinia in full sun, tolerates shade. 
  • Shelter Bauhinia from wind.  
Beautiful purple Bauhinia variegata flowers
Beautiful purple Bauhinia variegata flowers

When to plant Bauhinia 

  • Sow Bauhinia seed at 61°F (16°C) in spring.  

Planting and spacing Bauhinia 

  • Plant 10-25 feet (3-8m) apart.  

How to water and feed Bauhinia 

  • Give Bauhinia regular to moderate water; water freely during drought. 
  • Feed Bauhinia with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 

How to care for Bauhinia 

  • Prune Bauhinia when young to form single trunk. 
  • Prune Bauhinia after the flowers fade only if necessary to train the tree to a desired shape. 

Bauhinia pests and diseases 

  • Bauhinia are susceptible to attacks by spider mites, whiteflies, aphids, and mealybugs. 
  • Fingal leaf spots, stem galls, and root rots can also occur.  
  • Bauhinia may suffer from dieback—that is, 2-12 inches (5-30cm) of the tips of the branches may be killed by cold temperatures—but if the freezing period lasts no longer than a few nights, the trees themselves are not usually killed and the branches will sprout again below the damaged areas. 
Delicate white flowers of  Bauhinia
Delicate white flowers of Bauhinia

Bauhinia propagation 

  • Root semi-ripe Bauhinia cuttings in summer with bottom heat. 
  • Layer in spring.  

Bauhinia varieties to grow 

  • Bauhinia forficata, Brazilian butterfly tree, evergreen to deciduous shrub or tree; native to Brazil; hardiest Bauhinia; umbrella-shaped to 20 feet (6m) tall; flowers shaped like orchids–colors range from maroon to purple to rose to orchid pink; gray-green leaes tend to drop around bloom time, but not all foliage falls.
  • B. variegata, Mountain ebony, Orchid tree, spreading, deciduous tree bearing rounded, rich green leaves, 4-8 inches (10-20cm) long, with heart-shaped bases and deeply 2-lobed tips. From winter to summer, short, terminal racemes of light magenta to purple-blue flowers, 3-5 inches (8-13cm) across, sometimes white-variegated are borne. To 25-40 feet (8-12m) tall and 10-25 feet (3-8m) wide. Eastern Asia.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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