What are we looking at? Is it an old Cocteau Twins album cover? The filaments of some psychedelic light bulb? What we’re looking at is beauty. Something so vivid, so mysterious, yet so romantic. Have you ever seen such a symphony of hot color? Sometimes to see beauty you have to look closer, fall deeper, and allow yourself to let what you see wash over you. Here is one glorious case. Maybe you’ve met before. Maybe you haven’t. Let me introduce Bauhinia galpinii also commonly referred to as Red Bauhinia, Pride-Of-The-Kaap (“Cape”), or South African Orchid Bush.
Bauhinia galpinii is a semi-deciduous shrub that comes to us from Southeast Africa. I never encountered it until I moved to Los Angeles. We first met when I spied it growing in an overgrown garden of some old hollywood star. Its exotic flowers lured me in like the song of a siren. Bauhinia galpinii can grow up to 10 feet tall and wide; 25 feet at maturity if provided with ample nutrients. It tends to have a horizontal branching habit. Branches are outfitted with bilobed, fan-shaped leaves that remind me, for some reason, of lily pads floating on a still pond. The 3″ flowers it produces are five petalled and look as if they are made from a richly delicate crepe paper. They appear mostly in spring. Flower color appears in hues of vivid scarlet to soft salmon. Lightly pruning after bloom encourages bushier growth, keeping its size in check, and promotes a future of abundant flowering.
Bauhinia galpinii likes full sun, fertile, well-draining soil, regular water, becomes drought resistant once established, and is hardy to around 25 degrees fahrenheit/-3 degrees celsius. There is something fantastical about this shrub. Its presence in the garden or cut in a vase conjures a tropical vision so romantic, so soul satisfying, that it’s as if paradise has been found.