INDIAN BEAN TREE
Indian bean trees are not a very common site in Exeter which is a shame as they are very showy trees when in flower (July). There is a good sized tree in the St Thomas pleasure grounds and also two along the Alphington road opposite Sainsburys. Although they are commonly known as the Indian bean tree they do not come from India or make beans. They are native to the South-Eastern part of America and the fruit of the tree are capsules rather than beans. During the exploration of the world Christopher Columbus discovered America - but at the time he thought it was India. This is when he discovered the tree and based on his knowledge at the time it was named the Indian bean tree. A more suited name would be 'Red Indian bean tree' due to the native Red Indians being present during the discovery.
Indian bean trees are now typically found in parks and green spaces as well as private estates with large grounds. They are not very well suited as street trees as the branches do not stand up well to any high winds and there is also the large amount of litter they produce from the huge leaves as well as the seed pods. The ideal location is somewhere in full sun and away from roads and pavements. In America they are commonly planted in the back gardens of fisherman as the leaves are very popular to a variety of large caterpillars which they use as bait. For this reason it is sometimes known as the 'Fishbait tree' or 'Worm tree'. In the UK it is mainly planted for ornamental purposes. There are no edible parts of the tree and the roots of the Indian bean tree have been labelled as poisonous. The trunk of the tree doesn't usually grow very straight and can sometimes grow at an angle.
The leaves are very big and make identification very easy. The length of the leaves is usually up to 25cm but I have seen bigger. They are arranged in opposite pairs (sometimes three) and in groups of four to five leaves. The shape of the leaves are broadly ovate and cordate at base. The buds are quite unusual as they are quite small compared to the size of the leaves. There is no terminal bud and the uppermost bud is axillary.
The leaves are very big and can easily get to 25cm in length
The flowers are mostly white and the throats (inside) are scattered with purple dots and steaks of yellow
The flowers are very pretty transform the tree in July. The flowers are panicles of white exotic bell shaped and have dashes of orange and purple inside. They are perfect flowers and contain both male and female parts in each flower. They are insect pollinated and are a favoured by bees. After successful pollination the flowers develop into long capsules which house many seeds. It is worth noting that the Indian bean tree is self pollinating so viable seeds can be made from just one tree alone. Once the tree is fully mature it can make thousands of capsules which could easily contain 50,000 seeds. The capsules are nearly always referred to as beans due to the original incorrect naming hundreds of years ago. During the winter the capsules really stand out and look a little like black icicles from a distance.
The bark is light brown / grey in colour and tinged with orange as it matures. The bark itself is set in scales. Although the tree has not been listed as edible - most parts have been used in traditional Chinese medicine. As beautiful as these trees are they are typically not very long lived. The average life span is anything from 50 to 150 years. It is deciduous in nature which means it will leave shed it's leaves during the winter. The tree is very easy to identify at this time of the year due to the thousands of mature capsules which resemble black icicles.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- It is a deciduous broadleaf tree native tree to the South-Eastern parts of America.
- Although it is known as the Indian bean leaf tree it does not come from India or make beans
- The life span of this tree is usually 50 to 150 years
- The wood is brittle and hard and does not rot easily. It is used for fence posts and railroad ties in America
- The leaves are a favourite of caterpillars which is why it is sometimes called the fish bait tree or worm tree
- In the UK they are typically planted in parks and green spaces for ornamental purposes
- They can make a lot of litter from leaf drop as well as the capsules which can quickly block drains
- The flowers are insect pollinated (bees mainly) and the seeds are dispersed by the wind
- A mature tree can create thousands of capsules which can house over 50,000 seeds
- The tree is not listed as edible but parts have been used in traditional Chinese medicine
- The leaves are very large and heart-shaped that look a bit like the ears of an elephant
- The upper side of the leaves are a dull green whilst the bottom is a more pale green and hairy
- The flowers are arranged in large panicles (multi-branched inflorescence)
- Inside the each flower are both sets of reproductive organs (perfect flowers)
- The seeds are equipped with papery wings which facilitate dispersal by the wind
- The fruit (capsules) can easily grow longer than 15cm and resemble black icicles from a distance
- It is sometimes called the cigarette tree due to the cigar shaped fruit (capsules)
- In the past the heartwood of this tree was used to make railroad ties
- The wood is now used for the manufacture of fence posts, beams and furniture
- The wood is also sometimes used as tonewood in the industry of guitars
- The seeds have been used in the treatment of cardiac disorders, asthma and spasms
PLEASE LEAF ME ANY FEEDBACK / COMMENTS
If there is anything out of place or wrong please contact me. Equally if there is anything you wish to add please let me know. The more information we have about Indian bean tree the better. Many thanks!