Plant This: Anacacho orchid tree

Almost everyone (in central Texas’ zone 8 or 9) has room for an Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) in their garden. After all, it only grows 8 to 12 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide, with an airy habit and tiny, semi-evergreen leaves shaped like deer hoofprints. Although native to the thin limestone soils west and southwest of Austin rather than the deep clay found in parts of our city, this spring-blooming tree seems to grow fine in gumbo clay, or at least so I found in my former garden.

I’m growing a new one in my current garden, and it’s looking gorgeous this spring, with flowers like white linen handkerchiefs tied to the ends of its branches. They are slightly fragrant, and bees love them.

When not in bloom, its silvery gray bark is attractive, and did I mention those cute cloven leaves?

It’s a drought-tolerant small tree (when established) for full sun or light shade. So go on, central Texas gardeners, and plant one. You know you have a spot for it.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

22 Responses

  1. Gail says:

    I like this one Pam! Wish we could grow it here in Middle TN. gail

    Are you zone 7, Gail? Otherwise your limestone soil might be a good fit. —Pam

  2. jenny says:

    Yes, it is a beauty and I found a spot for one in my garden last year. It is in full flower. I am thinking of adding more outside the walls. I think it fits in nicely with the native trees around here.

    Yes, it really does. I’m envious that you have room for several more. —Pam

  3. Juliet says:

    I find this post a little cruel because I love anacacho orchid trees and actually DON’T have space for it, lol. Luckily there’s one planted on my street and one at work so I still get to enjoy them :)

    Aw, Juliet, sorry! Well, look at it this way. The garden is always in flux, and maybe one day a sunny space will open up and you’ll know just what to do with it. —Pam

  4. Amy says:

    I just saw one of these around the corner in bee-magnet full-bloom! Glad to know what it is; I’m wondering if I might have a spot next to my porch for it…it’s deciduous, right?

    It’s semi-evergreen, Amy. In mild winters it hangs onto some of its leaves. In a hard winter it loses them. The Wildflower Center advises planting it on the south side of a building for additional winter protection, but in my central Austin gardens that’s never been an issue. Maybe if you’re in a cold spot or outside of town. —Pam

  5. Tina says:

    I love the Anacacho orchid–a tough little tree and those white blooms are so pretty! They can get large-ish though–not that tall, but very wide. The one at Howson garden has a 15 foot spread.

    That’s a biggie, Tina! I remember there’s a pretty good-sized one at Zilker’s Water-Wise Garden too, yes? The nice thing is, it’s an airy tree, so it doesn’t cast dense shade. —Pam

  6. Don in Waco says:

    Farmer’s Nursery (Leander) had one planted beneath heavily shaded mature mott of live oaks that, while remaining smallish (~6-8′), it always had a nice bloom. They do have lots of seed pods similar to redbud trees except they have that dry twist feature that expels the seeds away from the trunk. Its a minor nuisance when considering the other attributes of the tree. Its one of my favorites, thanks for posting.

    Good point about the seedpods and its tendency to seed out a bit. Like you said, it’s not a huge deal though. Thanks, Don. —Pam

  7. Cynthia says:

    We planted one in a limestone hole (surrounded by rock) six years ago. It’s now 12 feet tall – at least – and blooming like mad. It does seed out easily. More to transplant or give away, if you catch them early!

    Isn’t it amazing how our native trees can grow in seemingly solid rock? Yours sounds like a happy guy! Good point about the seedlings, Cynthia. —Pam

  8. Sandy says:

    Here in southern AZ we have one these beauties! Currently in bloom, lots of hummingbirds and butterflies spend time with the flowers. The Anacacho orchid is one of my favorites.

    How wonderful that it grows well for you too, Sandy. Enjoy! —Pam

  9. Lea says:

    Beautiful! Really wonderful! I guess north Mississippi, zone 7, is too cold for it.
    Happy Gardening
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Probably…but never say never. Do you have a protected microclimate? Maybe it would be worth a try if you don’t mind gambling. —Pam

  10. That sure is a lovely tree! Like a few other zone 7 gardeners, wish I could grow this.

    We’re in France, but I brought my MacBook Air so I can keep up with everything!

    Freda, you’re a machine—on vacation AND still blog reading. Enjoy that trip! —Pam

  11. Heather says:

    Hi Pam, What a beautiful tree – thanks for this post. I have never seen one before, but I will be on the hunt now! And you are right…those flowers do look like hankies! :) precious!

    It should be easy to find in San Antonio, Heather. Here in Austin it’s usually carried at Barton Springs Nursery and The Natural Gardener. —Pam

  12. Thanks for sharing…I’ll have to enjoy it planted in z 8a Las Cruces and El Paso, where it sailed through last winter. Maybe I will *finally* remember to specify it on an upcoming design there, thanks to your reminder!

    Even the Death Star doesn’t faze it, David. —Pam

  13. Tara says:

    How pretty is that?! I wonder if it would grow in my Zone 8b alabama red clay?

    It prefers alkaline soil to acidic, but one thing I learned from a visit to experimental gardener and plant-hunter John Fairey’s Peckerwood Garden last weekend is: try. A quote from Fairey (from an article about him in Departures magazine): “Trial and error. People who don’t make mistakes don’t do anything.” —Pam

  14. David R. says:

    Great plant! I’ve got a light pink colored one via Lynn Lowery in the mid 90’s. Doing great here in DFW!

    Ooh! I’ve never seen a pink one before. Do you have any pics? —Pam

  15. What a pretty plant, doubt it would work here in clay soiled Greenwood, most of the county is now 8a except for my little corner up by the lake, still 7b.

    Yes, but you have your own acid-soil loving plants that I’d love to be able to grow. :-) I didn’t know the lake affected your temps so much! —Pam

  16. Laura says:

    I have three (2 white & 1 pink) and I didn’t water any of them during the drought. They are absolutely wonderful trees. Two I bought at a local nursery, and one I bought at a plant sale where I work. The one I purchased at work was a “rescued” tree. My employer had the grounds crew dig it up because they didn’t like where it was planted, and it languished in a pot for some 6 YEARS. It was only 3 ft tall. Finally, when my employer decided to re-landscape everything, they dug up & sold many plants and my “grounds crew connection” told me about this sad tree. It’s now 6-7 feet tall and very happy not to live in a pot anymore. :-)

    That’s one tough plant. I think it’s interesting that you have a pink one too (as does another commenter in Dallas). I’ve never seen a pink variety before. I’ll have to keep an eye out. —Pam

  17. Vickie says:

    I just planted an anacacho orchid tree this spring, and I’m so excited about it! Great flowers and leaves.

    I want to thank you for your stock tank pond instructions — I followed them pretty much to the letter and so far all is well, if a bit green. I also put in a bottle tree per your instructions, but it has yet to bloom. ;-) I just posted photos today on my blog, as my first waterlily bloom opened!

    Your blog is a total inspiration to me!!

    Thank you so much, Vickie! And your recent garden makeover is an inspiration to me too! It looks absolutely wonderful. I posted about your project on my Lawn Alternatives FB page because I’m sure it will inspire others to rip out grass for more enjoyable garden features. —Pam

  18. oh! i just put one of these in. it’s a favorite already. the little leaves and silvery bark are so pretty, and those flowers have a scent that drifts all the way into the house. good to hear it’s semi-evergreeen, too.

    It’s a real beauty, and they are blooming all over town right now. Enjoy yours! —Pam

  19. chuck b. says:

    Very pretty.

    It is a pretty little thing, and tough too. —Pam

  20. jackie says:

    Love this tree and surfing the net to see if it will grow in the Phoenix area and according to one post it will. My concern is with the seeds. I want to plant it close to the a/c unit and wondering if the seeds will hinder the unit. Are the seeds tiny? Any comments appreciated.

    They are flat, brown seeds, Jackie. I don’t think they could affect the performance of your A/C unit. —Pam

  21. jackie says:

    Help!! Pam, a few days after the first post I planted a 7-foot pink orchid tree following the usual way I’ve always planted trees. It was beautiful with healthy looking leaves. I watered it that day and for the first week every third day since I live in the Phoenix area. Then I read somewhere on the internet not to water so much so the next week I only watered once. It was beginning to drop leaves after that watering. We got rain/wind yesterday so went out to check on it after the rain and there is not a leaf on it. The trunk looks good and the branches don’t look withered. What have I done to this poor little tree…..did I kill it??

    Hi, Jackie. I’m sorry about your tree trouble. Since I know nothing about gardening in Phoenix I suggest you ask the folks at the nursery where you bought it. I hope it makes it! —Pam

  22. J Myers says:

    Just had to cut down a 12 to 15 ft. purple A. orchid tree. Now have to dig up the trunk and roots? Are they shallow and spread out horizonal roots or deep roots? Beautiful tree but too messy in small front yd. Can anyone answer my question on the root system?

    I don’t think you’ll have to dig out the roots unless they’re too thick to plant anything else there. If it was healthy when you cut it down, the tree will likely try to resprout from the stump. In that case, cut the stump as close to the ground as you can, score it deeply in a cross-hatch pattern with a saw, and paint it with stump killer. —Pam