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African Tulip Tree
Spathodea campanulata

whole tree with flowers and podsThe African Tulip Tree was introduced to Singapore in the 1910's from Africa, probably as a decorative shade tree because of their beautiful red tulip-like flowers.

The flower buds form a ball-shaped cluster. Each brown banana-shaped flower bud is filled with water, forming a natural water pistol when squeezed. The outer buds bloom first before the inner ones. The tree blooms year round and a flower lasts about 3 days. The ripe pods split open into a woody, boat-shaped
form. Children use them in boat races, by placing the opened pods in a fast flowing drain.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Grows up to 10-15 m.

Leaves: Simple pinnate compound, 30-40 cm long, about 7 pairs of leaflets. Leaves are slightly hairy, shiny above.

Flowers: Large, showy, red.

Fruits: Long (20 cm) green pods, when ripe turn brown and is filled with lots of small seeds with transparent wings.
close-up of flowering cluster
close-up of unripe pods
Status in Singapore: Introduced. Common in wastelands.

World distribution: Native to tropical West Africa.

Classification: Family Bignoniaceae.
Uses: The seeds are edible. The soft, white timber used in making paper. In West Africa, their homeland, the wood is used to make drums and blacksmith's bellows. It has shallow roots and a tendency for branches to break off in a storm. Thus it considered unsuitable as a roadside tree.

Traditional medicinal uses: The bark, flowers and leaves are used in traditional medicine in Western Africa.

Role in the habitat: The flowers provide nectar for birds which may pollinate the tree. The seedlings germinate rapidly and the tree grows quickly. So it is among the first large trees to colonise wastelands.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions, 1987 (p. 124: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to the Wayside Trees of Singapore", Singapore Science Centre, 1989 (p. 140-141: description, habitat, photo).
  • E. J. H. Corner, "Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol I", Malayan Nature Society, 4th ed., 1997 (p. 181-182: description, habit, distribution).
  • Anne Nathan and Wong Yit Chee, "A Guide to Fruits and Seeds", Singapore Science Centre, 1987 (p. 76: description, habitat, photo).
By Ria Tan, 2001