Purple orchid tree is closely related to peacock flower and to the tree many consider the world's most beautiful, the royal poinciana - and it shows! Purple orchid tree (usually just called orchid tree) is staggeringly beautiful when in bloom - and it blooms for several months! Orchid tree grows 20-40 ft (6-12 m) tall and 10-20 ft (3-6 m) wide with a spreading crown of briefly deciduous leaves which are 4-6 in (10-15 cm) across and rounded with lobed ends and heart shaped bases. The leaves are shaped a little like a cow's hoof. Some cultivars have leaves with white variegations. The flowers are reminiscent of showy orchids, with five irregular, usually slightly overlapping petals in shades of magenta, lavender or purplish blue. The flowers often make their first appearance in late winter while the tree is bare of leaves. The blooming period then lasts until early summer. The flowers are 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) across and carried in clusters at the branch tips. A member of the bean family, orchid tree produces flattened brown woody legumes (pods) up to 12 in (30.5 cm) long. The cultivar 'Candida' (white orchid tree) has snow white flowers with greenish veins.
Sowing: Soak seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing. Germinate at 20-30C (68 to 86F) on the surface of a good free draining, damp seed compost. Cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite, and place in a propagator or seal container inside a polythene bag until after germination which usually takes 10-60 days. Do not exclude light at any stage as this is beneficial to germination.
Growing Instruction: Transplant when large enough to handle into 7.5cm (3m) pots of good quality compost, and grow on in cool, well lit conditions. POTTING ON; When well grown, pot on into 20-25cm (8-10in) pots and overwinter at 10-13C (50-55F) and keep just moist.
Orchid trees do best in acidic soil and suffer under limey conditions. They are not tolerant of salty conditions, either.
Light: Full sun. Orchid tree can tolerate very light shade from tall pines, for example.
Moisture: Water freely during the summer and less so in winter. Orchid tree may drop its leaves during winter drought, but this is not a bad thing.
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