Seed of the Week: Orchid Trees

Craig recognized our mystery seeds and seed pods from last week as coming from orchid trees (Bauhinia sp.)


Orchid trees are named for their absolutely breathtaking, orchid-like flowers.

orchid-tree-branch and leaves-12

A few weeks ago our local orchid trees were masses of brilliant flowers.

Orchid trees were originally from Asia, but are now grown in warm areas throughout the world. The trees can withstand a light frost, but are killed by colder temperatures.



The pods and seeds in the mystery seed post most likely were from Bauhinia variegata, which is also called “mountain ebony.”

Bauhinia variegata seeds(Public domain photograph by Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)

Unlike the immature green mystery seeds, Bauhinia variegata seeds are light brown when mature.


Orchid trees are easy to identify when they are not in bloom because they have unusual bi-lobed leaves.


Another type of orchid tree that grows in Arizona is the Hong Kong orchid tree, Bauhinia blakeana. The Hong Kong orchid tree is actually a hybrid and does not produce seeds.


Hong Kong orchid trees have darker magenta or reddish purple flowers.

Given the long stamens and pistil of the orchid tree flowers, it is not surprising to learn that they are often pollinated by large moths (see pollination by butterflies post for more information).

Have you every seen an orchid tree in full bloom? Aren’t they amazing?


  1. William Hines

    I have a great big mountain ebony tree. I just pulled a bag full of the seed pods. Some were dry and some were green. Will the green ones dry ok and what’s the best way to dry them?

  2. Roberta

    I’m not sure. Readers have any ideas? I’ll check with a botanist friend, too.

  3. William Hines

    I have a lot of the dried ones. Haven’t planted any yet. Not sure if I should plant them in a pot or in the ground. Been having rain every day for couple weeks. Don’t know how much water they need

  4. Roberta

    Orchid trees do okay here in the desert, but they take quite a bit of water, about as much as a lawn would. The cold seems to effect them more than the heat, because they are pretty frost sensitive. Also, they have low tolerance for salts in the water, but if you’re getting a lot of rain that shouldn’t be a problem.

  5. Rebecca

    I have been given some orchid tree seeds .
    Can anyone give me any advice on the medium they should be planted in and how to care for them
    Thanks in advance

  6. Roberta

    Orchid trees will germinate in regular potting soil. Soaking them by wrapping in moist paper towels and sealing in a plastic bag for 24 hours might increase germination. Try half with soaking and half without, if you’d like.

    Depending on where you live, the seedlings can be transplanted outside in the ground when the weather warms up. I noticed ours here in Arizona were flowering last week, but it is pretty cold for them this week.

  7. Cathy Bulich

    I just got a Hong Kong Orchid tree it had seed pods that are approximately 6 to 7 inches bright green, are these pods sterile? I will I know?
    Thanks Cathy

  8. Roberta

    Because the Hong Kong orchid tree is a hybrid cross, it is usually sterile. However, nature has a way of making exceptions.

    Look to see if seeds are forming and maturing within the pods (you can see what they look like in the post). If the pods do produce mature seeds, then it might be worthwhile to try germinating them.

  9. Willie Atkinson

    I just planted a Hong Kong orchid tree in Zone 9 Arizona desert. It is doing well. My question is can I remove the long seed pods that are growing and when is it best to remove them. I don’t care for the way they look and I’m not interested in germinating the seeds. But I don’t want to negatively impact future blooms. Thank you.

  10. Roberta

    Removing the seed pods should have no impact on future blooms as long as that’s all you remove. Just make sure not to disturb the buds.

  11. Sandra Miller

    I found a seed pod this morning from an orchid tree that was on the ground. It is still green, but you can see the seeds, does it need to be dried out before trying to germinate? I live in Phoenix Arizona and know nothing about these beautiful trees

  12. Roberta

    Do you have any idea which species/variety it is? Some of the hybrids don’t produce viable seeds, I’m afraid.

  13. Katherine

    Mine grow on the ground when a pod pops before I get to it! I have about 40 of them growing all over my yard! Water them like grass. Love my Mountain Ebony Orchid Tree!

  14. Roberta

    Thank you for sharing!

  15. Mary giffin

    I have a orchid tree that was grown from seed. Will it produce seeds since that’s how I go it

  16. Roberta

    If you grew it from a seed, then chances are good. They are beautiful, aren’t they?

  17. Cathy Bulich

    Question: which way do I place the seed in potting soil? Or does it not matter.

  18. Julie E Johnson

    If I have green seed pods will the seeds mature if they removed from the tree green and I leave them in the pods?

  19. Roberta

    I’d leave them on the tree as long as possible.

  20. Roberta

    It probably doesn’t matter. They are like bean seeds.

  21. Genevieve LaBorde

    Just got some orchid tree seeds. I took some and am soaking in water for 24 hrs as said do.. I’m in Louisiana, can I keep them if they root in a smaller container inside till time to plant outside in spring, which is normally end of Feb first if March… Full sun part sun??? When I put out side, should I keep in pot till bigger outside in spring??? I’m also trying to root angel trumpet plants they are soaking as well..Thanks for any help…

  22. Roberta

    You might want to check with some local gardeners. Does your state have a Master Gardner program? They are volunteers who answer gardening questions.

  23. Trisha Hedstrom

    I have found some seeds that my mother in law obtained when she went to Jerusalem, they are very very old at least 20 + yrs old, I have tried growing them but not sure how to go about that. I have checked with several different master gardeners and many others who know more about germinating seeds. They may just be too old to grow, I don’t know. I have 4 left, to try and get to grow Do you have any info or tips on how I can get these babies started? any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

  24. Roberta

    Some seeds last a long time. We had a blue hibiscus that sprouted after over 10 years.
    Suggestion 1: The tried and true method is to wrap the seeds in moist paper towels and slip into a plastic baggy. Watch they don’t dry out or start to mold.
    Suggestion 2: We once germinated pine seeds in a germination tray with a heat mat. We included radish seeds as a control and they germinated essentially overnight. Worked great.
    You might want to do a small batch of seeds at a time and experiment.

  25. Craig

    I brought a few dried seeds pods home from Martinique when I was a teenager…30 years later I germinated and grew one seed into a small tree… I never knew what it was until today…cool!

  26. Roberta

    Awesome to hear!

  27. Amy

    I have two brown pods that I took from the ground below an orchid tree. They both look sealed still. Should I open the pods to collect the seeds or wait for them to pop open?

  28. Roberta

    It wouldn’t hurt to wait a few days and see if they pop open. If not, you can always open them.

  29. Lili

    I have some seeds from Sint Maarten in the Netherland Antilles. Picked them up about 25 years ago. I’m about to soak them and plant tomorrow in Noosa Queensland Australia. Wish me luck

  30. Roberta

    It will be an interesting project. Let us know what happens.

  31. Alex

    When you plant these seeds, is there a right way up like with some bulbs. And, has anyone tried scarifying the seeds. Thanks.

  32. Ondine

    I have about 30 pods green pods that my husband got off a tree that he was hired to cut down . Can I take the seeds out of the closed green pods to germinate the seeds???? Do I have to dry out the pods and wait til they turn brown and open ?

  33. Lenna

    I am growing my white orchids tree from seed in a pot. It is now about eight inches tall. When do I plant it in the ground? I live in central Florida. Thank you.

  34. Roberta

    I would check with someone local, like your local Master Gardner volunteers. They should be listed by county.

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