Mexican Orchid Tree Blooms–Finally!

The Mexican Orchid Tree (Bauhinia mexicana),  I planted as a tiny seedling in October 2010  bloomed recently.

Yeah, I think it was worth the wait.

A friend  gave me a 4 inch seedling while I was helping with her garden.  I knew a little about the plant and that the Mexican Orchid Tree grows well in shade, though it doesn’t get as  large, nor blooms as prolifically as in full sun.  I dutifully planted the seedling in a dappled shade spot and waited.

The seedling died back during winter.  I didn’t expect it to survive because of two very hard freezes and the seedling, while well-mulched, hadn’t much time to establish.  The Mexican Orchid Tree reemerged in late spring of 2011.  It survived the Summer from Hell (2011) and grew throughout last year, only to die to the ground again during  winter, 2012.

Planted in a shady spot, my Mexican Orchid Tree will never become a “tree” for me.  It’s  an open and airy shrub, with (for now) two main branches.  Planted  in a garden with Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and assorted shade-tolerant plants,

it adds interesting foliage,

and lovely white blooms which brighten the shady area.

If planted in full sun, the Mexican Orchid Tree grows to 8-12 feet in height with a 6-8 foot spread. Reportedly deer resistant, it’s known as a great butterfly attracting plant, although.  I haven’t observed any butterflies on my blooms. I would consider it a xeric plant.  I haven’t  given any extra water other than the two times/month that is my norm and it’s grown well.

The flowers are beautiful,

and fragrant, too.

Here in Austin, the only two nurseries which regularly carry the Mexican Orchid Tree in stock are Barton Springs Nursery and The Natural Gardener.

Patience is a virtue (so I’m told) and I’m glad that I waited for this lovely addition to my garden.

I Couldn’t Wait

In my post, Cast Iron Crisp, I discussed how one stand of Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), in my gardens, suffered leaf burn this past summer.

The plants have been in that spot for more than a decade and have never had this sort of damage.

The garden receives dappled shade most of the day, until the late afternoon blast of hot, west sun.  The plants that are in front and to the side  of the Cast Iron are all sun lovers and thrived with no ill effects from the exceptional drought and heat.

My assumption about the damage this year is that it was caused by the extremely hot (more than 70 days above 100 degrees) temperatures that Austin experienced during summer 2011.  Originally, I planned to prune the Cast Iron in winter and observe what happens next year and if it is as hot again and similar damage occurs, I would replace the plants.

Yeah, right.

I can’t wait that long.

So, once I’ve dug out the sun-burned plants, what do I replace the Cast Iron Plant with?

I wanted something that I don’t already have, that can take mostly shade, but won’t burn up with the death rays of the west sun and something that won’t need much water, given the very real possibility of Stage 3 water restrictions in the foreseeable future.

I love the native red Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) and have many of those shrubs in my gardens. I used to have a White Turk’s Cap and enjoyed it as well, but  moved it and it didn’t survive its transplantation.   I’ve never been quite as enthralled with the Pam’s Pink Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii ‘Pam Puryear’), although I’ve grown to like it more after observing it at Zilker Botanical Gardens (in the Butterfly Garden) and in private gardens around Austin.  According to those who grow it, it’s as hardy and xeric as the red Turk’s Cap. So, I decided to try two Pink Turk’s Cap as the replacements for the fried Cast Iron Plant.

I laid out the exact spot where I want the Turk’s Cap  and adjusted the soaker hose to pass over the root zone of each plant.

I dug ’em in, watered ’em and mulched ’em.

Because it’s late in the growing season, I opted for gallon pots each with a large root base  to better ensure survival odds through winter.  At maturity, these two plants should be four to five feet tall.

Viewing from the street (toward the tree), the Turk’s Cap will fill in the space behind  the Mahonia (Mahnonia repens) and in front and to the right  of the Cast Iron, thus shading the remaining Cast Iron Plant from the sun during the hellish summer months.  The small Giant Lirope (Lirope muscari) in the front/center of the photo, is a transplant from another part of my garden and will eventually be about three times its current size.

Viewing from the tree side of the garden (toward the street), a seedling Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum), is to the right of the Giant Liriope and left of the Mahonia and will fill in the area in front of where the Turk’s Cap is planted.

I opted to leave the section of Cast Iron Plant which was not sun-damaged.

I think this is a good solution to the Cast Iron sun-burn problem.  My greatest concern  is planting during the  continuing drought.  My hope is that I’m ahead of possible severe water restrictions with enough time for the xeric Pam’s Turk’s Cap to establish itself.

Wish them (and me), good luck.  And, think about what you can do to replace drought/sun damaged plants, inappropriately placed, with better suited options.

Evergreen Beauty

Another word (or two) about Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior).  I would encourage gardeners with shade to consider this striking plant.  It’s a great staple  for the shade garden because it adds graceful vertical structure for background and definition.

Aspidistra  is evergreen, deer resistant and heat, drought and cold hardy. I’ve never had any insect problems with this plant.  It’s pairs beautifully with Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium),

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus),

and Giant Lirope (Liriope muscari).

During the winter months when the herbaceous perennials have frozen and are pruned to the ground, it’s nice to have the deep green, wide, strappy leaves to give a garden form and structure.  During the growing season, Aspidistra compliments flowering perennials with additional,  tropical-like lushness. According to literature about the plant, there is a bloom associated with it, but I’ve never seen one in any of my plants.