The tipuana, or tipu tree, is a semi-evergreen which is native to the tropical forests of South America. It is grown because of its canopy which provides plenty of shade. The timber tends to be a white color, which is durable and fibrous when the tipu tree receives the care it requires.
It resembles characteristics of the ash family of trees, providing features which are similar to others in that family even though it is the only member of its own genus. In colder climates, the tree will shed all of its leaves at the end of the year. Then the helicopter-style seed packets reach the ground during the final months of winter.
Because of how beautiful the blooms can be, the tipu tree is often sought because it proliferates quickly and offers stunning looks throughout the year. It can also be invasive without proper care, taking over vast stretches of property in fewer than 3 seasons. That is why the pros and cons of owning a tipu tree must be considered carefully.
List of the Pros of the Tipu Tree
1. It provides adequate shade when the tree matures enough.
The tipu tree grows vigorously in environments it likes. There are some seasons of growth where the branches may reach 12 feet in length. That creates an effective shade barrier in warm, tropical climates where having protection from the sun is at a premium. It also loves full sunlight, which means you can plant it in locations where other trees may struggle to grow. If the growing zone is correct, you can even plant partial-shade plants underneath its canopy with success.
2. It grows to 30 feet rather quickly.
The tipu tree grows effectively in Zones 9-11 in the United States, which provides it numerous opportunities in the southern and coastal regions. Some homeowners as far north as coastal Washington could grow this tree in an environment it likes. The tipu tree, with proper care and pruning, may reach 30 feet in height within 5 years. Its growth is similar to that of a fast-growing woody vine.
If you live in Zone 9 and are thinking about tipu tree, then look to see if you’re in the USDA Zone 9a or Zone 9b. The winters in Zone 9a are sometimes rough on the tree, with an extended cold snap potentially freezing or killing it. Any location which offers the possibility of a -4 degrees Celsius temperature should avoid planting this tree.
3. It offers golden yellow flowers which begin blooming in spring.
The flowers of the tipu tree create golden blooms which last from mid-spring to the early days of summer in most climates. Little must be done to care for the tree to trigger a bloom, with the seasons taking care of the job once the root system establishes itself. Although the pedals do create the effect of a “golden carpet” once the tree begins shedding its leaves, advance planning to remove the debris makes the job easy.
For blooms that land on a lawn, using a mower with a catch bag will remove most of the pedals without difficulty. They are lightweight blooms too, so blowing them out of hardscape options is a simple task. If you live in the city, however, you may need to check on local rules about debris on the street to avoid potential issues.
4. It provides a unique look that kids love.
The tipu tree grows in a way that is perfect to climb as a kid. The bark is rough, providing plenty of grip as you move upward. It grows with branches that quickly gain strength, allowing easy upward mobility. Then you have the unique shade element of the tree, with its extensive canopy providing plenty of places to hide. With its dark green leaves, helicopter seed pods, and quick growth patterns, this tree grows up like children do – way too fast.
(Parents will love how the tree looks on their property also, assuming there is enough space for it to grow with its aggressive root base.)
5. It requires less water to reach maturity compared to other trees.
The tipu tree is surprisingly hardy, handling cold temperatures and salty soils with ease. It acclimates to drought conditions well too, assuming it has time to establish itself. For the first 2-3 years of life, frequent watering (between 2-4 waterings per week) to ensure the roots establish themselves correctly. Because it is a woody-type of a plant, it requires much less watering as it gets older. That is why these trees became popular in southern California over the past decade. It meets the low-water requirements established in many neighborhoods.
Tipu trees are known to survive for several weeks under drought conditions without any water.
6. It is a resilient tree which handles a variety of growing conditions.
The tipu tree loves to grow in difficult conditions, especially if you have some desert sun to offer it. At least 6 hours of direct sunlight is necessary each day to support its growth. Installing a drip system will take care of the tree in its first years. If you have clay in your soil, a standard fertilizer with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will help to take care of it. Just use fertilizer sparingly, as too much will produce weaker branches, fewer flowers, and leaves which fall off too early in the season.
7. It will attract wildlife to your yard.
Even though the blooms of the tipu tree are not fragrant, they still attract bees and butterflies to your yard. You’ll find that hummingbirds in the area like the trees as well. Because of its fast-growing nature and thick canopy, they’re a popular choice for nesting birds. If you hang a bird feeder from a low-hanging branch in your yard, you’ll find new activities to watch in no time at all.
8. It produces high-quality lumber which is useful for numerous projects.
The lumber produced by tipu trees is dense, thick, and strong when the tree matures. Sawmill operators sometimes compare working with this wood to dealing with concrete. That makes the wood useful in a variety of situations, from building to burning, and everything in-between. Although it requires skill to work with this commodity, the benefits of owning a tipu tree which is later used for other products offer unique potential which other tree species are unable to provide.
Cabinets and various furniture items made from tipu tree wood are highly prized around the world, especially when polished to preserve its unique, straight-grained tones.
9. It offers seeds which germinate quickly.
The seeds of the tipu tree retain their viability for several years if they are dried and stored at the local ambient temperatures of zones 9-11. This tree is different than other legume-type seeds, as it does not contain a hard coating, which means you’re not required to start a pre-treatment process to encourage germination. The full germination process takes between 10 to 30 days, depending on the conditions of the soil, the season, and access to water. Plant the trees in cool weather, then stake the trees to encourage upward, open growth until the root base establishes itself.
List of the Cons of the Tipu Tree
1. It leaves debris on the ground underneath it.
There are multiple layers of debris to consider when planting a tipu tree. The first issue is the abundant flowers which give the tree such a unique look when it blooms. When the pedals are shed from the tree, it leaves a huge mess on the ground which must be cleaned up to prevent injury. Daily chores along sidewalks, paths, and similar walkways are necessary underneath a mature tree.
The pests which like the tipu tree leave “honeydew,” or a protective amber coating, as they feed on the resources available to them. This sticky substance is slightly acidic, so it must be cleaned off of vehicles right away. Then there are all the leaves to clean up if the tree isn’t in an equatorial climate.
2. It builds from an invasive system.
South Africa classifies the tipu tree as a Category 3 invasive species. Because of how quickly it grows, the tree is not permitted anywhere except a biological control reserve unless it grew before the regulations were put into effect. Even then, there are specific rules about where the tree is permitted to grow, and active, documented attempts to prevent its spreading are required. Many countries think of this tree as something closer to an invasive weed than a tree.
3. It grows up to 100 feet in height.
The tipu tree requires a lot of space wherever it grows. Growth reaches 30 feet in only a few years, even if you planted it as a sapling. If given enough time, protected trees are known to reach heights which exceed 100 feet. The tree requires frequent pruning in its first 2 years of life to form the branch structures required for balanced growth and a strong root network. Do not plant the tree in a location where excessive shade could harm other plants or your garden for best results.
4. It offers a canopy which is extremely wide.
Many people plant tipu trees because of the shade potential it offers. When the tree is mature, the canopy may grow to over 50 feet in width. That size may create plenty of blooms to enjoy in the spring, but it also creates a bigger mess to clean up throughout the year. Even with smaller trees, the width of the canopy may exceed 20 feet in just a few years. You must plan out this size when planting saplings to prevent potential growth damage to structures on your property as unbalanced pruning could kill the tree over time.
5. It attracts an insect called the tipu psyllid.
The tipu tree attracts spittlebugs to it for feeding as it grows. Since 2008, an invasive insect called the tipu psyllid became active in southern California because of the presence of these trees in the region. The pests cause the leaves of the tree to curl up before the colder weather of fall, causing them to drop prematurely. Excessive infestations cause fouling of concrete and building structures. Vehicles in Brazil have been damaged because of this insect. Ladybugs are often introduced to high-population areas of this pest to prevent them from spreading as fast as the tree.
6. It grows with weak branches, requiring skilled pruning.
You must allow the tipu tree to achieve a full season of growth before pruning it. If you try to trim the canopy in the spring or summer, the response will be a red oozing from the branches which creates a sticky mess underneath. Wait until winter before shaping the tree to ensure it grows with strong branches.
When pruning the tipu tree, you must determine how you want it to grow. Focus on diseased or broken branches to create the desired canopy above. If you trim in a place where no branch is located, you’ll have multiple shoots grow. Keep your efforts to 25% or less of the tree to prevent stress that attracts more pests and damage. The bark is also sensitive to the sun, which could harm the tree if too many cuttings take place.
7. It offers a very aggressive root system.
The roots of the tipu tree grow quickly and aggressively to support its fast-growing structures. They spread out quickly to establish a firm base for the trunk. It is known to lift asphalt and concrete easily as it spreads. Planting a tipu tree near a home guarantees that some type of damage occurs unless preventative actions are taken to stop the root systems.
The primary recommendation is to dig a trench near property structures like a pool or house at least 1 meter deep. Then fill the hole with various building rubble, lining it with a thick plastic sheeting. Some experts recommend filling the gap with corrugated roofing sheets to prevent the roots from spreading.
8. It requires an ongoing energy source to survive.
Tipu trees do well when energy resources are available to it. Mature trees can withstand changing conditions with ease, but they require a return to their “normal” conditions at some point during the season. Ongoing drought, changes to soil consistency, or reduced sunlight exposure all create potential issues for the future health of the tree. Owners can simulate these conditions to a certain extent, with watering, fertilizer, and pest control, but without stability in all facets, the strength of the tree will begin disappearing over time.
9. It may create allergic reactions with exposure to its lumber.
The tipu tree offers a red, runny “sap” when it is cut for lumber. That substance also stains the wood as it is being worked, turning it into a faded brown color over time. Some people may find that they are allergic to the sap (similar to the reactions received from certain rosewoods), which may create respiratory and skin issues. Take precautions before working with this lumber, and check for reactions in family members if you intend to burn logs for heat in the home.
10. It requires a shallow planting to be successful.
Tipu trees grow successfully when they are planted shallow. If you plant them too deep, then the trees will begin losing their leaves prematurely. When combined with the stress of being planted as an older tree, the potential for harm is quite high. Make sure that you can see root flare coming from the base of the tree from where it’s planted for best results. Do not plant sod around the tree at all as the grass robs the tree of its resources. In desert conditions, consider mulching around the tree to ensure it retains enough water during its growing phase.
The pros and cons of tipu trees involve how fast it grows, how strong its root base becomes, and the overall invasiveness of its personality. If you have space to let these trees grow, they will provide you with plenty of shade in only a few years. You won’t believe how fast it can grow. Planting them in confined areas next to structures is a bad idea, however, because it can damage the foundation of a home very quickly.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.