The first time I saw an African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata), I was awestruck by three things:
The beauty of the flowers
The size of the flowers
The number of flowers on the tree
I saw my first one at the end of a cul-de-sac one day when I purposely had gotten lost. I don’t remember exactly where it was, only that it was somewhere in South Park, so I haven’t been able to find it again. However, I keep my eye out for other African tulip trees, and I have found a lot of them.
The second one I discovered is a very large tree in the northwest corner of Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park:
Next I discovered several of them at the northwest corner of Costco in Mission Valley:
Recently I was exploring the beach below Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.
I had walked north on the beach, but rather than walking back south on the beach, I decided to go up to Scripps and walk at the top of the cliffs.
Look what I discovered:
The blue building is Sverdrup Hall. Here’s a Google Earth view of the trees:
Spathodea is a monotypic genus, meaning that there is only one species in the genus, and that species is, of course, Spathodea campanulata, the African tulip tree. Smile if you feel special now!
Mature trees can be anywhere from 23 to 82 feet tall. It is native to the tropical dry forests of Africa, which explains why it does so well here in San Diego. Interestingly, the African tulip tree has been nominated as one of the 100 World’s Worst invaders.
First discovered in 1787 on the Gold Coast of Africa, the African tulip tree is planted extensively in tropical locales for its showy reddish-orange and crimson flowers. Yellow flowers occur, but are rare.
Other interesting tidbits about the African tulip tree:
The flower buds contain water, making them fun to play with since you can shoot the water at other people simply by squeezing the bud.
Thirsty birds love the flowers because their upward cup shape allows them to hold rainwater and dew.
The wood is relatively soft, making the trunks popular with hole-nesting birds like barbets.
Seeds are edible, and seeds, flowers, and roots are used in medicine in some parts of the world.
The bark has laxative and antiseptic properties. It can be boiled in water and used for bathing newborn babies to heal body rashes.
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