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.

99 thoughts on “Leopard Tree”

  1. 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?
    Thanks

  2. 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?

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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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