Spathodea campanulata

Common name: Flame of the Forest

Other common names: African Tulip Tree, Chew Chew, Donkey Pew Pew, Squirrel Tree

Names in non-English languages: French German


Flame of the Forest is a spectacular flowering tree originating in tropical West Africa. 

It is a fast-growing tree and may attain a height of up to 30 m (98 ft) in natural forest habitats, though it is more commonly 10 to 20 m (30 to 65 ft) tall in cultivation. The trunk is usually straight, up to 50 cm (1.5 ft) in diameter, clear of branches for half or more of its height and supports a much-branched oval or rounded crown. The bark is smooth, light brown, becoming fissured with age.

The leaves are large, 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft) long and feather-like, made up of thirteen to seventeen dull green, elliptic leaflets arranged in pairs along the length and with an extra leaflet at the tip. They are evergreen to semi-evergreen, with some leaf-fall occurring in seasonally dry areas.

The flowers are tulip-shaped, up to 10 cm (4 in) long and almost as wide, commonly red-orange or flame-coloured, though a yellow flowering variety is occasionally encountered. They bloom on and off throughout the year, with peaks in the dry, winter season in seasonally dry areas and in large clusters of up to twelve, mainly above the crown, where they create a striking visual display.

The fruit are canoe-shaped seedpods 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in) long, green becoming dark brown to near black at maturity. They are filled with hundreds of small seed, each with thin, transparent, papery wings that make them easily dispersed by wind.


It is an introduced species in humid subtropical and tropical regions worldwide, cultivated for its spectacular flowering display and shade. The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar that attracts and nourishes nectar-feeding birds, adding to the tree's garden interest.

A red dye or pigment is extracted from the flowers harvested after falling to the ground. The dye is extracted by immersing the petals in an alkaline sodium hydroxide solution at 85°C (185 °F) for one hour. This produces a dye with fair to good colour fastness. However, it is improved by adding a mordant or colour-fixing substance.

The tree produces creamy-brown, lightweight heartwood averaging around 250 kgs per cubic meter (15 lbs per cubic ft). It has a low natural resistance to rot and decay, making it a non-durable softwood. Although not widely used, the sawn timber is reportedly suitable for making boxes, crates, and cement forms. The roundwood can be pulped for making particleboard.

Health use

The unopened flower buds contain a watery liquid that can be squirted and is used as a natural eye-drop in Nigeria and Jamaica.


Grows and flowers naturally in moderately humid to humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 18 to 25°C, annual highs of 27 to 35°C, annual rainfall of 700 to 4500 mm and a dry season of 7 months or less, extending to 9 months with irrigation or groundwater.


New plants can be grown from stem cuttings, root cuttings or seed, which germinate readily. Performs best on free- to slow-draining clay and loam soils of an acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 4.5 to 8.0 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has good tolerance to limestone and poorly drained soils.

Problem features

The tree produces thousands of lightweight seed which get carried on the wind, sometimes over long distances. They germinate readily on moist soil, sometimes forming dense stands. Also, the roots send up numerous suckers, contributing to the plant's overall weediness. It is assessed as a high weed risk species for Hawaii by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA) and is recorded as an invasive species in more than one country, a term reserved for the most serious weeds of the environment and agriculture.

The wood is light and brittle, making it intolerant to strong winds, with limb breakage common in high wind events, such as tropical storms, hurricanes and cyclones.

The root system is wide-spreading and large surface roots are common. Flame of the Forest should only be planted on sites that are a considerable distance away from any buildings, paved surfaces or underground pipes.

The spent flowers fall to the ground creating litter and staining on contact.

Where it grows

With irrigation or groundwater



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