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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 16:36 EDT

Hong Kong Orchid Tree, Bauhinia blakeana

The Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia blakeana), is an evergreen tree with a unique endemic flower of Hong Kong. It is categorized in the genus Bauhinia and is even referred to as this name in non-scientific literature.

These pinkish purple orchid-like flowers are typically 4 to 6 inches across, and have fragrant blooms from early November to the end of March. The large, thick, double-lobed leaves resemble the shape of a heart or butterfly. Typically, the leaf will be 2.5 to 4 inches long and 4 to 5 inches broad, with a deep crevice dividing the apex. Native people of Hong Kong sometimes refer to the leaf as “clever leaf,” and regard it a symbol of cleverness. Bookmarks are made from the leaves in hope that it will help them to study well.

The Hong Kong Orchid Tree is believed to be of hybrid origin, probably a cross between Bauhinia variegate and Bauhinia purpurea. Propagation is by cuttings and air-layering, and the tree thrives best in a sheltered sunny position with healthy, non-rocky soil.

The tree is thought to have been discovered originally in around 1880 by an enthusiastic botanist near the ruins of a house above the shore-line of western Hong Kong island near Pok Fu Lam and was moved to the formal botanical gardens in Victoria/Central. However, the plant was appointed its name in honor of amateur botanist, Sir Henry Blake, British Governor of Hong Kong, by S.T. Dunn, Superintendent of the Botanical and Forestry Department. Dunn wrote the first scientific description of the tree in his paper in 1908.

In 1965, the Hong Kong Orchid Tree was adopted by the Urban Council as the floral emblem of Hong Kong. The floral emblem has appeared on its flag and its coins for the City of Hong Kong since 1997. Although the flower is a pinkish purple color, it is depicted as white on the flag of Hong Kong. In Golden Bauhinia Square of Hong Kong, a statue of the plant has been erected. In 1984, the plant has also been chosen to be the city flower of Chiayi City in southwestern Taiwain, after it was introduced to Taiwan in 1967.

Hong Kong Orchid Tree Bauhinia blakeana