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

Arboriculture

Trunk

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.

Flowering

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.

Foliage

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.

Management

Propagation

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.

Cultivation

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.

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