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Junior Division

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Sibyl Fendley
Sibyl Fendley

African Tulip

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African Tulip

The African tulip tree flower produces large flamboyant reddish-orange flowers that have approximately five petals and are 8-15 cm long. The flowers are bisexual and zygomorphic. These are displayed in a terminal corymb-like raceme inflorescence. Its pedicel is approximately 6 cm long. This flower also has a yellow margin and throat. The pistil can be found at center of four stamens that is inserted on the corolla tube. This flower has a slender ovary that is superior and is two celled. The seeds of this tree are flat, thin, and broadly winged.

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 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 (24 m.), but growth is usually limited to 60 feet (18 m.) or less with a width of about 40 feet (12m.). The flowers are pollinated by birds and bats and the seeds are scattered by water and wind.

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.

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.

Among the most beautiful of flowering trees, the African tulip tree comes from tropical Africa, where it reaches heights of 60 feet (18.3 meters) or more; in San Diego, they average 25 to 40 feet (7.6 to 12.3 meters) tall. When in bloom, the tree puts on a spectacular display, aglow with a profusion of stunning, orange-scarlet flowers.

A blooming African tulip tree clamors for attention, displaying clusters of showy, five-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) flowers that resemble frilly tulips. The bloom season, which depends on where the tree is planted, may last as long as five months. Fruits are 6- to 12-inch-long (15.2- to 30.5-centimeter-long) cigar-shaped pods that dry and harden. When they fall from the tree, they split into two boat-shaped halves and spill about 500 thin, flat seeds. The filmy wing that surrounds each small seed catches the wind and helps the seed disperse.

You might spot this exotic standout in urban and suburban landscapes where it has been introduced, including warm parts of the US, Australia, Central America, and some Pacific Islands. One cultivated variety bears flowers that are golden yellow. Although evergreen in their native tropical Africa, these trees are sensitive to cold, and may be cold-deciduous in cooler climates. They may also drop their leaves to survive very dry seasons. These trees do best in full sun, but outside of the tropics they rarely reach their full height. Limbs should be trimmed to prevent wind damage, as the wood of an African tulip tree is soft, bearing brittle stems, hollowing with age.

These trees are harvested for various commodities, including food and medicine. It is used for reforestation projects, for soil conservation, and as a crop for the production of plywood and charcoal. African tulip trees attract birds and other wildlife with their copious nectar and ability to hold rain and dew.

Mature leaves are deep green and glossy, but they start out coppery. African tulip trees have pinnate leaves: leaflets on


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