Botanical Name: Spathodea campanulata
Common Name: African Tulip Tree or Fountain Tree
Spathodea is a monotypic genus in the flowering plant family Bignoniaceae. The single species it has, Spathodea campanulata, is commonly known as the African Tulip Tree or Fountain tree. It is native to tropical forests in a broad area of sub-Saharan Africa. Spathodea campanulata sheds its flowers during the dry season in some regions, for 5-6 months a year though, in others, like in Madeira, it will flower all year round.
Considered one of the world’s most spectacular flowering trees, the Tulip Tree is planted extensively as an ornamental tree throughout the tropics and is much appreciated for its very showy reddish-orange campanulate flowers, reminiscent of a tulip. It has been reported to be an invasive colonizer in some tropical areas.
A yellow-flowered cultivar, known as yellow African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata ‘Aurea’), is also occasionally seen in Funchal.
It is fast growing and often begin blooming when they are only a few years old. The flower bud is ampule-shaped and has water. These buds are often used by children who play with its ability to squirt the water. The open flowers are cup-shaped and hold rain and dew, making them attractive to many species of birds.
In the wild flowers are pollinated by birds and bats and the seed is dispersed by the wind. This plant is also capable of propagating by root suckers and cuttings as well as by seed in cultivation.
The seeds are edible. In Singapore the timber is used for making paper. In West Africa the wood is used to make drums and blacksmith’s bellows. The bark, flowers and leaves are also used in traditional medicine in its native home range.
In Africa and Haiti, the flowers are thought to have magical properties and the wood is used for witch doctors’ wands.
Although African Tulip Tree is not typically thought of as a toxic plant, African hunters are said to have boiled the seeds to extract arrow poison.
Elda Sousa (Official Tourist Guide)
Bibliography: Different sites on the internet
Photo Courtesy of Marla Castro