Bauhinia petersiana

The spectacular indigenous Bauhinia petersiana is so beautiful that it could find a home in any garden.

In your garden, you may have areas that you would like to screen off but planting a medium to large tree in that area would not be suitable. The best solution to this is to consider planting a shrub or a small tree. One indigenous shrub that is ideal for this purpose is Bauhinia petersiana or commonly known as the Coffee bauhinia or White bauhinia.

Bauhinia petersiana

The Coffee bauhinia is an evergreen spreading and scrambling shrub, or small tree, which usually grows between 3 to 4 m in height, sometimes reaching 7 m.  It occurs naturally in open woodlands and wooded grasslands at low to medium altitudes in sandy soils.

Typical of all the Bauhinia species, which also helps to identify them, is their lobed or butterfly leaves. The Coffee bauhinia leaves are lobed for almost half their length, with 6 to 9 veins running from the base to the leaf margins.  Its flowers are composed of large white petals that are fragrant and flowering time is from December to January.  Large pods are produced from July to September, which start off smooth green and later turn to brown when ripe. The seedpods explosively twist and split open exposing the brown seeds.

One of the main reasons why Bauhinia petersiana is known as the Coffee bauhinia is due to the fact that the seeds can be roasted and ground to produce a coffee substitute. The seeds can also be pounded into meal to make porridge.  Both leaves and the roots have medicinal purposes while the its bark can be made into rope. 

Bauhinia petersiana has two subspecies subsp. petersiana and susbsp. micrantha. Bauhinia petersiana subsp. petersiana is taller, growing into a small bushy tree with its inflorescence composing of 2 to 10 flowers. It is found along the Zambezi valley through to Victoria Falls. Bauhinia petersiana subsp. micrantha is more of a bushy shrub found on Kalahari sands in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Western Zimbabwe and in Angola. Its inflorescence is composed of 1 to 3 flowers.

What does inflorescence mean?

An inflorescence is a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of either a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches.

As mentioned earlier, Bauhinia petersiana can be used as a screening plant in a garden shrubbery or can be planted in dry areas of the garden.  It prefers to grow in full sun and in sandy well-drained soils. Its root system is non-aggressive. Some pruning will be required to keep the shrub looking neat and tidy or it can be left untouched if you want a wild or natural look in your garden.  This is also a good species to train into a bonsai specimen. It can easily be grown from seed but the seeds need to be clipped and soaked in water for a day.

It is definitely a worthwhile species to plant and will add colour to all gardens.

By Pure Earth Trees

With thanks to Bart Wursten for the photos

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