When we think of our island landscape, chances are we think of vibrant, subtropical colours: the red and pink flowers of hibiscus and oleander, for example, the scarlet blossom of the royal poinciana, the yellow blooms of the golden shower and lucky nut trees. Surely these are the true colours of Bermuda? Strictly speaking, they are not, or at least have only become so in the last two and a half centuries since our ornamental trees were imported to the island during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These days environmentalists stress the importance of planting endemic and native trees, not usually noted for floral splendour. But landscapers and garden centres recognise that ornamentals certainly have their place in Bermuda’s gardens, offering as they do an exotic beauty as well as an attraction for birds and bees. So why not treat yourself to an ornamental tree as a New Year’s gift? But remember to consider the mature size of the tree and location before making your choice. You do not want one that will outgrow the space you allocate to it or one that could threaten your water tank or swimming pool. Here is a selection of trees which grow well in Bermuda.
The Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
Also known as the Chinese varnish tree, this is an ideal choice for a medium-sized garden. It grows up to 30 feet tall and equally wide. Easy to care for, it tolerates drought, heat and wind. Deciduous, it becomes beautiful in late summer when it produces loose branching clusters of bright yellow flowers. However, the resulting pinkish brown fruits, containing three black seeds, are arguably even more showy—they resemble papery Chinese lanterns, effective in dried floral arrangements.
Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. The golden rain tree can be easily grown from seed.
Did you know?
The tree is named after Joseph Gottlieb Koelreuter, an eighteenth-century German hybridist.
In its native China, the seeds were often made into necklaces. The tree is also native to Japan, Korea and Manchuria.
Weeping Bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis)
This evergreen tree, growing up to 25 feet, is well named since its bristly red spikes certainly do resemble bottle brushes. Native to Australia, it attracts bees while adding colourful interest to an average sized garden spring to summer long. In a sunny position, dig a hole in well-drained soil that’s about two- to three-inches wide and has the same length as the tree’s root ball. Plant the sapling in the hole, adding soil around it. Water generously around the base to stimulate root growth. Subsequently, water when the soil is dry, several inches below the surface. Propagate from seed or cuttings.
- Fertilise from spring to fall to promote flowering.
- Deadhead fading blooms and prune straggling branches.
The Common Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata)
Dubbed the butterfly tree, this is technically a shrub but staking and pruning it can shape it into a tree growing up to 20 feet high. Its orchid-like flowers (blue, pink, white and purple) have a fragrant beauty, while the winged shape of its leaf is responsible for its nickname. Native to China and India, this is a popular choice in Bermuda but it must be planted in a sheltered though sunny position since it’s vulnerable in windy conditions. Bauhinia is fairly drought tolerate though it should be watered occasionally during extremely dry periods. Propagate from seed or cuttings.
Prune when dormant in winter to promote new growth.
Mahoe, Tulip Tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus)
Native to tropical Asia, the mahoe has striking yellow flowers with crimson centres which turn dull orange to red during the day, falling at night. It can grow up to 32 feet. The Mahoe is a good choice in Bermuda since it is salt tolerant and likes sandy soil. Plant in a sheltered position but away from swimming pools as it produces suckers. Prune if you want to curtail width. Propagate from seed and cuttings.
Did you know?
- Governor Lefroy reported mahoe seeds were washed ashore in 1825. A mahoe tree was seen in Smith’s Parish by 1879.
- In Tahiti the large leaves were used to wrap around food during cooking and as plates.
- In Hawaii the wood was used to craft canoes. Its fibre was also used for making fishing nets and caulking boats.
Calabash (Crescentia cojute)
In Bermuda the evergreen calabash tree was prized for its gourds, rather than for its greenish yellow flowers. Both grow directly from the branches and sometimes from the trunk. Dried and cut in half with the pulp removed, the gourds were called “coakers” and used primarily for bailing boats. They were also used as water dippers while making arrowroot starch and as scoops for taking cattle feed from barrels. A tree on the Orange Grove estate in Smith’s Parish provided St. David’s Islanders with most of their calabashes, but another in Walsingham was also famous thanks to poetry written in 1804 by Thomas Moore, who often sat under it. It was destroyed in 1987 by Hurricane Emily. Since then, another has taken its place in Walsingham. The trees are easily propagated from seed found in the pulp. Seed should be soaked for 24 hours before being planted two- to three-centimetres deep in a pot containing well-drained soil.
Did you know?
- Governor Hamilton mentioned the calabash tree in 1790, while in 1829 Susette Harriet Lloyd saw “a magnificent calabash laden with above 500 gourds” in Somerset.
- In 1844 Samuel Triscott, a British officer stationed in Bermuda, invited 35 gentlemen for lunch under the Walsingham calabash tree. For the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, this event has a very special significance since it was during this occasion their club was founded.
- After the cedar blight in the 1940s deprived bluebirds of natural nesting sites, hollowed out calabashes came in useful as nesting boxes for bluebirds.
Pink Shower Tree (Cassia javanica)
While the golden shower tree is fairly common throughout Bermuda, the pink shower tree is not so usual though it is just as, if not more, beautiful with its clusters of pale pink flowers and yellow stamens. Flowers appear late spring into late summer. Originating from Java and Sumatra, this tree is also known as the apple blossom tree or rainbow shower tree. It grows rapidly and can reach a height of up to one hundred feet. Plant in loamy soil in a sheltered but sunny position to ensure blossom. Water regularly during growing season but avoid waterlogging. Prune in late winter/early spring before new growth begins. Propagate from seed.
Did you know?
The pink shower tree is one of Thailand’s nine auspicious trees, bringing good luck.