Many uses of the leopard tree

Andrew Mangwarara
LEOPARDS are not just confined to wildlife parks – they are also found in the plant kingdom.

The leopard tree is another fantastic artistic expression of nature. This is probably one of the most attractive trees I have ever seen, with its characteristic leopard camouflage on its bark and acacia like foliage, it fits as a tree for royalty.

To add to its grandeur is its lean structure and good canopy. It can easily stand out in a garden, so give it space to shine.

The leopard tree, referred to as ceasalpinia ferrea is an exotic tree of note originally from Brazil. It is also commonly known as the Brazilian ironwood.

It can grow to about 15m depending on the climate it is exposed to. It prefers a humid climate and so will respond accordingly, but if planted in a dry climate its growth will be stunted and so will suit a small garden.

But as a precaution it should be planted away from buildings, swimming pools and plumbing lines since the roots can be aggressive. It is advantageous to plant this tree in the garden as the shade it provides is not a very deep one, thus many plants requiring a bit of light can be safely grown under its canopy. It can be used as a street tree in the city. Leopard tree wood is valuable for furniture, fence posts, pillars and beams.

Can also be used for firewood and producing good quality charcoal.

Having this tree in reforestation programmes is beneficial as it fixes nitrogen into the soil, so it can be the pioneer species. Apparently the tree has a number of medicinal uses such as the roots being used to lower body temperature or constrict body tissue (astringent). What it is really known for medicinally is to manage diabetes with the roots and bark being used. Other medicinal uses include the treatment of sores, coughs and asthma using an infusion.

The leopard tree can be propagated from seed, but the seed coat is hard so there is need for scarification (scraping of the hard seed coat with sharp knife). One can proceed to soak the seed in warm water for 12 to 24 hours.

The absorption of water should now be visible on the swelling of the seed. Sow the seed in a part shade position or under shade cloth. Germination can be expected in two weeks. Transplant the seedlings when they are 5cm. Propagation from cuttings is also possible but in combination with a rooting hormone.

Its graceful habit can begin to be seed even from seedling stage. The good thing about this tree is that you can also train it as a bonsai specimen. Its beautiful yellow flowers add on to the wonder, which makes it attract birds, bees and butterflies to the tree. Ensure that the tree is planted in a fertile and well-drained soil. Regular pruning of the tree is necessary to keep in check if growing too vigorous.

The flowers and seed pods must be removed from the lawn to ensure that they do not become missiles during mowing times.

But generally it is a tree worth growing if your garden is large enough. Happy gardening!

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