Leopard Tree

Libidibia ferrea

formerly Caesalpinia ferrea
Family: Fabaceae Origin: Native to Brazil and Bolivia, South America

A large, semi-deciduous tree, the Leopard Tree can be pruned to a size suitable for suburban streets. This feature, its ornamental floral and autumn leaf display plus its hardiness in drought and frost conditions have seen the tree used by many Queensland councils and landscapers.

In recent times however, the trees have been deemed a nuisance because of their tendency to spread roots beneath concrete and into pipes. Also, because their fallen seed pods present a significant trip hazard to pedestrians and because the trees’ branches cannot support weight and are therefore difficult to prune without the assistance of an elevated work platform. We recommend tree removal if it is located near a structure.

The wood from Leopard Trees can present as an instant allergen to a number of people who have previously been unexposed. Despite this, it is a widely used in flooring, furniture manufacturing and to make gun grips. Its particular tonal qualities also mean that the trees’ timber is ideal for use in guitars.

Growth form

Typically cropped to 10-12 metres or less for suburban plantings, the trees can get to 20 metres tall when left to grow. With age, the trees’ canopy becomes dense and their trunk thickens. The branches spread to 6-8 metres.

leopard tree



close-up of leopard tree bark

The tree sheds its bark leaving a distinctive, grey and white dappled effect across the trunk. The pattern is reminiscent of leopard-print, hence the trees’ unique name.


close-up of yellow leopard tree flowers

Spikes of bright yellow flowers are produced at the ends of stems on the tree, the colour further reinforcing the trees’ commonly derived name. These panicles can become messy when falling and do attract birds, bees and butterflies to the tree.


Leopard trees have delicate, layered foliage with very small acacia-like leaves.
Growing in compound formation, the leaflets average 2.5 cm in length although when used in bonsai, the leaves can be stunted to as little as 1.5 cm each.
They foliage is dark green until autumn when it drops in a spectacular display of raining red. Regrowth appears as a pinkish-red, later developing to its mature green.



Indehiscent, the hard seedpods of these trees will not break open without assistance. Once hammered apart, the seeds inside are relatively easy to germinate. They need to be scarified and soaked in water but afterwards will readily take to soil and sprout within days.

Propagation from cuttings is also possible when older wood is used in combination with dipping into a plant hormone.


Fast-growing if given fertile, well-drained soil and full-sun. The main consideration when cultivating these trees is to plant in open areas away from underground sewerage systems, pipes or beneath concrete where they will invade. As Brisbane arborists, we hear more complaints about leopard trees than any other tree.

Very hardy, Leopard Trees survive drought-conditions, cold tending to frost, root pruning and transplantation. The tree can also be clipped at a young age without causing any damage to its development.

An ongoing cleaning schedule is necessary to prevent the trees from becoming a problem. They will drop leaves all-year round with increases in autumn. Their flowers fall as well as their hard, black seed pods which can form a tripping hazard on paths and walkways or cause injury if left on the grass and flicked at high speeds when spat out by mower blades.

112 thoughts on “Leopard Tree”

  1. These trees 8 were planted along our footpath 25 years ago. We have consistently had to clean gutters. As we have tank water. The cement footpath has been repaired by council 4 times. The roots are now travelling under a 10 foot triple rowed brick wall 4’under ground level into our sewer. Council will do nothing . We are told we cannot poison the roots . They will not prune. These trees are a major problem tree. The seeds so large you skate and slip on the hard seed. Do not plant these trees anywhere near anything you value. Not appropriate for a council tree. At least Brisbane is smart. Newcastle is a stupid stupid council planting these still under wires

    1. would it be an offence if you were to prune them after flowering so the pods do not form? Perhaps Council will only take action when the tree roots start lifting concrete footpaths or gutters? Raised up footpaths create a danger of liability for personal injury, so watch out for any near you or near other leopard trees, and notify them with photos.

  2. I live in a suburban street which is lined with leopard trees. They are very beautiful and the leafiness gives the street its great appeal. Birds such as lorikeets love to nest in them. Unfortunately, the trees are a menace and my council does not maintain them. The seed pods drop for about three months in spring and when dropping from their great height, can cause damage to vehicles. Since the tree overhangs my property, the pods crash on my carport, sounding like gunshots! When the pods get wet on my driveway they leave a tannin stain. The tiny leaves collect and mat on the roof, collecting under the solar panels and creating a fire hazard. When removed, the sticky sap lifts the paint from the roof. I have fine gutter guard but the leaves still collect on top in the gullies. I understand too that the roots search for openings in water pipes and drains and can interfere with concrete and underground electrical cables. A beautiful tree in an open paddock or its native habitat but in suburbia it is a deceitful saboteur. If councils were responsible with common sense, they would be banned and anyone planting them would be fined!

  3. I have several leopard trees lining the driveway of my new rural property and two of them have a full covering of rusty brown leaves. Some of the other trees have a sparse canopy whilst others are green and reasonably full. Are the rusty brown leaves indicative of disease or new growth?

  4. Hey, I live in Sri Lanka and my husband has planted a root balled leopard tree in our indoor courtyard which is currently approximately 17 feet tall. When I did my research on the internet it was advised not to plant it near buildings. So, I am eager to know whether we are in trouble , or won’t there be any problem? Please help!!!

  5. Hi David. I’ve read all of these comments with interest. I recently moved into a house in Bellbird Park which has a large leopard tree just inside our border. It’s a beautiful tree but I notice that some of the branches are beginning to interfere with the wires running to the house. I presume it is up to us to prune these but have no idea how to go about it and need advice. I’m not exactly sure of the distance to the house, but think it’s ok. The garden has been severely neglected and it’s quite a challenge to know where to start. I want to plant grass between the tree and the house where there is what appears to be a natural swale but am not sure whether that’s even a possibility. At present there is nothing but weeds. Can you help at all?

  6. Hi,
    I’ve got a garden bed under my tree and the plants and rats around it isn’t doing so well. Is that because the leopard tree is taking all the nutrients? I’m thinking of cutting it down and grinding the stump. Will that help restore me plants?

  7. Hi David
    We recently moved into a retirement village where there are a number of leopard trees. Our body corporate advised they were going to have them pruned back 30% of the canopy for safety reasons due to the falling seed pods. However, to our dismay they have pruned all of the trees back by 30% leaving just the bare trunk and branches but no foliage at all. Do you think this is appropriate and will the trees survive such a severe pruning? How long do you think it will take them to recover?

  8. Hi David,
    Our neighbour has a leopard tree approx 1 mtre from our boundary fence which as you know drops so much crap and is growing on and over a private power line which runs through our property which services the back neighbour (another issue) We have asked the neighbour to prune the out of reach branches to fence line but still waiting for a response.. Also we have just restumped our property and are a bit concerned about its root system stuffing up our new brick piers.. Would like to have the neighbour remove more than trim back.. I have spoke to QCAT but find it ridiculous that we have to pay a fee of more than $350+ to apply to have removed.. Not to mention the Jackaranda and 4 humongous prob 60-80 ft or more some sort of pine trees that also are so close to the fence boundary.. Don’t get me wrong I love trees but not where these ones are.. Do you have any advice to help us out please would be much appreciated
    Regards Dal

    1. write letters to neighbour, politely requesting they remove of the offending trees. Give the detailed reasons they should be removed, eg. leopard tree trunk is x metres from underground private powerline running thro yr property to service the neighbour ‘behind’ you. Also express your concern about the possible negative impact of their leopard tree on your recent restumping project. etc
      Write in upper case at top of the letter WITH PREJUDICE. Keep a copy.

      You could send the letter by Registered Post, but before sending prepare a Stat. Dec. and copy, and get a JP at the post office to sight the letter, the copy and you placing the letter into envelope and handing it across for posting. The Stat Dec should give the number of the Registered Post envelope, and describe the above sightings and refer to the copy as the document marked ‘A’. Also the copy of the letter should have the words: “This is a copy of the document marked ‘A’ being a copy of the letter referred to in the Stat. Dec signed by me on [date].
      Can you phone or visit a Community Legal Centre for advice?
      Keep copies of everything incl receipt for Registered Post and ask your neighbour behind to write a similar letter regarding the powerline.

  9. Hello. I have 13 yr old leopard tree in front yard for sun protection. Have a western face house. Can u tell me the best way to prune. My concern is cyclones.. can I trim one side one year then other side following year. I want to keep the hight for house shade but reduce the
    amount of foliage. Is it best practice to trim both sides at same time. It’s a beautiful tree keeping my garden cool and don’t want to remove it. Cheers

  10. What diseases can affect the Leopard tree. I live in Hampton Queensland and there are times when my Leopard tree has hardly any leaves. This is even in the full growing period in summer. Just when I think I should remove it burst into leave.

  11. We have just had a landscape plan done by a landscape designer and he has suggested a leopard tree (over a maple tree) for our open roof internal garden.
    I was hoping to contain it to about 8-10 metres in height. Is this even possible?
    Also, after reading all these posts, I’m now concerned about the invasive nature of the roots – can the roots be contained successfully with the aid of a root barrier and if so what would be a recommended width and depth?
    Should be still consider a leopard tree or still to a maple tree?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. I hope for your sake you chose the maple. If not its not to late dig it up and plant it at your landscapers

  12. I have a large leopard tree in my yard but I just can’t cope with the year long debris. mid-year seed pods and tannin everywhere, November drops it’s entire canopy then grows it straight back (what’s that about?) then I think autumn yellow flower pentals every where.. About 15 m tall. How do I kill it first? Too close to the wall to grind out & can’t afford the arborist at this stage

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