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Spathodea campanulataAfrican Tulip TreeFast-growing tree to...

Spathodea campanulata

African Tulip Tree

Fast-growing tree to 70 feet

A post card from garden designer Phil Chandler of Santa Monica was the tip-off. He said the Spathodea campanulata on the north side of Venice Boulevard, just west of Barrington, “was a spectacle now--worth a good photo and a story.”

This is one of several tropical or subtropical trees that flower in the fall, which Southern Californians can and should be growing. This one, from Uganda, is a little more tropical than most, and will probably not grow far from the coast where it is safe from freezes (it can probably take 30 degrees F.)

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Like the common coral tree--Los Angeles’ city tree--it is a fast grower and looks brittle, so it shouldn’t be planted where winter storms coming off the beach or Santa Anas roaring down the canyons can do it harm.

Out of flower, it is a nice but ordinary tree. Leaves are dark green, medium in size and slightly glossy. The trunk is fairly smooth and gray. There are roots above ground around the Venice Boulevard tree, which is about 40 or 50 feet tall, and nicely proportioned.

Tulip-Colored Flower

In flower, it is indeed a spectacle. The flowers open for a month or more from buds that look like a hand of bananas. Each flower is tulip-colored, and the size of an open tulip is large enough to trip up a skateboarder. Unlike a tulip, it is one big cup, with a crinkled edge.

The flowers can be seen from quite a distance, and they thoughtfully fall from the tree in one piece so you can examine them closely. The color is hot and tropical, a close match for Cadmium Orange or Flame Red, and another common name for the tree is flame-of-the-forest.

If you are intrigued you should see it for yourself. Phil reports that plants are available from Southern California Nursery in Culver City and that specimen trees are available from Howlett’s Coastal Zone Nursery in Malibu.


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