I can clearly remember going to a Durban nursery looking for a small tree to plant for Arbour Day. My requirements were that it didn’t grow too big, it must be indigenous, and it must attract insects or birds to my garden. The nurseryman sold me a skinny plant, which went by the name of a Yellow-bell Orchid tree, which he said would tick all the boxes. Was he right?
I suppose he was. I checked and the tree was indeed indigenous to South Africa (and further afield), it wasn’t going to grow too big and, according to my research, was going to attract all sorts of things to my garden. It was on the last point that my plant let me down. I never really noticed any bird or insect activity around it. Oh well, the flowers were pretty, so I was happy with it.
What does it look like?
The Yellow-bell Orchid tree is more of a shrub than a tree although, under good conditions, it can reach a height of 4 metres or more. It has slender branches, which may be hairy when young, that droop. It grows in a scrambling sort of way.
The flowers appear in summer through to autumn and are really attractive. As its name suggests they are bell shaped. They are yellow in colour with black centres. The yellow is brightest on new flowers and fades to a paler shade quite quickly. The long seedpods start appearing in late summer even though it may still be in flower.
This shrub occurs naturally in lower altitude areas and is not entirely frost resistant. Apart from that they are quite hardy and can tolerate some drought. It does not have dense foliage which means that you can plant some semi-shade flowers underneath it once it is big enough. If you have space, try planting them as a hedge.
When planting the Yellow-bell Orchid Tree it is important to include lots of compost and some bone meal. Although they are fairly slow growing this will get them off to a good start.
Does the Yellow Bell Orchid tree attract wildlife?
Apart from my own specimen, these shrubs ARE meant to attract lots of insects and even some birds. The flowers are rich in nectar and pollen, and it is host to the larvae of some butterflies. Apparently, rhino eat the leaves but if you have rhinos in your garden then this blog probably isn’t for you. Why don’t you try one and let me know what wildlife your plant attracts?
Scientific name: Bauhinia tomentosa
Read more about the Yellow Bell Orchid tree on BlueGnu.