The orchid tree is a medium-sized tree (1,5,7) native to a variety of habitats in South Asia, Southeast Asia, southern China, and Japan (1,2,5,7,8). Admired for its large, fragrant, and beautiful purple, pink, lavender, red, or blue orchid-like flowers(3,5,7), the orchid tree is also special for its extraordinary seed dispersal ability: it ejects its own seeds as far as 15 meters (49 feet) away from the tree, a possible record (6). Throughout history, this unusual tree has been particularly valuable to people for medicinal purposes. In countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, various parts of the orchid tree (including the bark, roots, and flowers) have been and continue to be used in traditional medicine as treatments for many ailments, such as ulcers, wounds, swollen glands, and stomach tumors(5,8). Ongoing research into the chemical components and medicinal properties of the plant suggests that the orchid tree contains a host of chemicals with, among other benefits, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and even cancer-fighting effects (5,8). The fruit(1,2,5), seeds (2,5), leaves(1), flowers(1), and flower buds(1) of the orchid tree are also used as a food source in some cultures, and the seeds have been to shown to have significant nutritional value(2). In addition, among some other economic uses of the plant (1,7), in places such as Nepal the leaves of the orchid tree are used as fodder for domestic animals like sheep, cattle, goats, and buffalo(1,4,5,7).
The orchid tree is a medium-sized tree(1,5,7) native to many different habitats in South Asia, Southeast Asia, southern China, and Japan(1,2,5,7,8). Admired for its large, fragrant, and beautiful purple, pink, lavender, red, or blue orchid-like flowers(3,5,7), the orchid tree is also special because of an amazing talent. Like some other plants, it spreads its seeds by shooting them away from itself, and it may hold the record for best seed-thrower: it can propel its seeds as far as 15 meters (49 feet) away(6)! Aside from these special characteristics, the orchid tree has been valuable to people throughout history as a source of medicines. In countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, parts of the orchid tree (including the bark, roots, and flowers) are used in traditional treatments for a wide variety of health problems from wounds to stomach cancer (5,8). Scientists who have studied the chemistry of the orchid tree to try to discover what gives the plant its medicinal properties have shown that it contains many chemicals that act in beneficial ways on the body; these include chemicals that reduce pain, chemicals that fight certain bacterial infections, healthy chemicals called antioxidants, and even chemicals with cancer-fighting effects (5,8). In addition to being used as medicine, though, the orchid tree is an important source of food and other products(1,2,5,7). In some cultures, people eat the fruit(1,2,5), seeds(2,5), leaves(1), flowers(1), and flower buds(1) of the tree, and in places such as Nepal, the leaves make healthy meals for domestic animals like sheep, cattle, goats, and buffalo(1,4,5,7).
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Catalog Number: US 874783
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined; Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): E. D. Merrill
Year Collected: 1916
Locality: Manila, Luzon, Philippines, Asia-Tropical
Habitat and Ecology
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Bauhinia purpurea
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bauhinia purpurea
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Phanera purpurea is a species of flowering plant in the family Fabaceae, native to South China (which includes Hong Kong) and Southeast Asia. Common names include orchid tree, Hong Kong orchid tree, purple bauhinia, camel's foot, butterfly tree, and Hawaiian orchid tree.
Phanera purpurea is a small to medium-size deciduous tree growing to 17 feet (5.2 m) tall. The leaves are 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 in) long and broad, rounded, and bilobed at the base and apex. The flowers are conspicuous, pink, and fragrant, with five petals. The fruit is a pod 30 centimetres (12 in) long, containing 12 to 16 seeds. Leaves are alternate.
Phanera purpurea may possess antibacterial, antidiabetic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, anticancerous, nephroprotective, and thyroid hormone-regulating activity. Water extracts of the leaves of Phanera purpurea have been shown to have anti-ulcer activity in animals in the 'ethanol-induced gastric ulcer model'. Water extracts did not show any signs of toxicity when given to rats orally at doses up to 5000 mg/kg.
A wide range of chemical compounds have been isolated from Phanera purpurea including 5,6-dihydroxy-7-methoxyflavone 6-O-β-D-xylopyranoside, bis [3',4'-dihydroxy-6-methoxy-7,8-furano-5',6'-mono-methylalloxy]-5-C-5-biflavonyl and (4'-hydroxy-7-methyl 3-C-α-L-rhamnopyranosyl)-5-C-5-(4'-hydroxy-7-methyl-3-C-α-D-glucopyranosyl) bioflavonoid, bibenzyls, dibenzoxepins, mixture of phytol fatty esters, lutein, β-sitosterol, isoquercitin and astragalin.
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- Wunderlin RP. (2010). "Reorganization of the Cercideae (Fabaceae: Caesalpinioideae)". Phytoneuron 48: 1–5.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".
- "USDA GRIN Taxonomy".
- Kumar T., Chandrashekar K.S. Research (2011). "Bauhinia purpurea Linn.: A review of its ethnobotany, phytochemical and pharmacological profile". Journal of Medicinal Plant 5 (4): 420–431. doi:10.3923/rjmp.2011.420.431.
- Zakaria, Z. A., E. E. Abdul Hisam, et al. (2011). "In vivo antiulcer activity of the aqueous extract of Bauhinia purpurea leaf". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 137 (2): 1047–1054. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.07.038.