Family : Leguminosae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The exact place of origin is unknown, it is present in nature in Africa (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) and Asia (Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka) where it grows in the forests and thickets up to about 1000 m of altitude.
The genus is honoured to the brothers Jean (1541-1613) and Gaspard (1560-1624) Bauhin, Swiss botanists, for the bilobed leaves; the specific name is the Latin adjective “tomentosus, a, um” = tomentose, covered in hairs, with reference to the tomentum present in the lower page of the leaves.
Common names: bell bauhinia, yellow bauhinia, yellow tree bauhinia, St. Thomas tree (English); asundro, kanjani, mandarai, petan, phalgu, pita, kovidaara, usamaduga (India); kaha pethan, kat-atti, triviat putrum (Sri Lanka); bosbeesklou (South Africa); ogal (Uganda).
The Bauhinia tomentosa L. (1753) is a very ramified shrub or evergreen small tree, or semideciduous in the less favourable climates, erect, unarmed, up to about 4 m tall, with semi-drooping thin branches and greyish bark. The leaves, on a 1,5-3 cm long petiole, are alternate, bilobed, with rounded lobes and entire margin, 2,5-5 cm long and 4-6,5 cm broad, of pale green colour, glabrous above and lightly tomentose below. The inflorescences are terminal racemes or opposite to the leaves bearing 1-3 semi-drooping flowers with spathaceous calyx, 1,5-2,5 cm long, etched laterally up to the base at the opening of the flower. Campanulate corolla with 5 obovate petals partially overlapped and slightly unequal, 3-5 cm long and 2-4 cm broad, of pale yellow colour with reddish brown spot at the base of the upper petal, 10 unequal fertile stamina, 1-2 cm long, and 1,8 cm long style; the flowers last one day and turn mauve pink at nightfall. The fruit is a linear legume with pointed apex, flat, 7-12 cm long and 1-1,5 cm broad, containing 6-10 ovate and flattened seeds, about 0,8 cm long, 0,6 cm broad and 0,2 cm thick.
It reproduces by seed, previously immersed in water for one day, in draining organic loam maintained humid, but without stagnations, at the temperature of 24-26 °C, with germination times of 3-6 weeks and first blooming starting from the third year, and by cutting.
Much decorative shrub, ideal for small gardens, suitable for tropical, subtropical and marginally temperate-warm climate zones, where temperatures just under the 0 °C are short lasting exceptions, as isolated specimen or for hedges; with proper prunings may be easily transformed in a small tree. It requires full sun, or at the most a slight shade, perfectly draining soils, preferably acidic or neutral, regular waterings, even if well rooted it can bear short dry periods, and fertilizations, from spring to autumn, with a a product balanced with withe microelements.
Cultivable also in pot, utilizing a loam rich of humus with addition of siliceous coarse sand or perlite per a 30%, for the decoration of open areas or for being sheltered during the coldest months in the less favourable climates, in very luminous position and with lowest values of temperature not under the 10 °C; it is moreover an excellent subject for bonsai. The waterings must be regular in summer, more spaced in winter, but without ever allowing the substratum to dry up completely, useful are the prunings in early spring for a more compact posture.
The wood, of dark brown colour, is particularly hard, but due to the reduced dimensions is not commercially utilizable. All parts of the plant, toxic if ingested, are utilized since remote times in the traditional medicine, Indian particularly, for various pathologies. Laboratory studies have evidenced the presence in the plant of numerous bioactive compounds with antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antimicrobial and anti hyperglycemic activity of possible interest to the official pharmacopoeia.
Finally, the flower is utilized in the Hindu daily rituals and the plant is always present close to the temples and in the family gardens of the followers of Hinduism.
Synonims: Alvesia bauhinioides Welw. (1859); Bauhinia tomentosa var. glabrata Hook. f. (1866); Bauhinia wituensis (1899); Alvesia tomentosa (L.) Britton & Rose (1930); Pauletia tomentosa (L.) A. Schmitz (1973).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza