Natural La Jolla: African tulip tree stuns with gorgeous blooms



It’s the beginning of fall here in San Diego, but our temperatures are still lovely and warm. This amazing climate allows us to have beautiful flowering trees and shrubs all year round, even as the weather starts to cool.

One stunner of a tree is the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata). It is blooming right now around La Jolla and throughout San Diego. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, this tree can become invasive in more tropical climates than ours.

Also called the nandi flame tree (for the bright red blooms), it grows to about 30-feet tall in our area. The name of the tree is due to the shape of the beautiful clusters of red (usually) or yellow flowers that sit like cups on top of the branches, reaching for the sky. The frilly blooms measure several inches across and sit vertically on the branch. They bloom in clumps, clustered together around liquid-filled buds that are shaped like fuzzy claws.

Because the blooms and buds hold water and nectar, these trees are very attractive to birds, bees and hummingbirds. Also, if the buds are squeezed just right, they can send a shot of watery nectar up to 10 feet! Once the blooms have finished, they drop off the tree, leaving a carpet of flowers on the ground below.

Depending on how quickly the weather cools, these sensational trees may continue to bloom late into the fall. See if you can spot them as you travel around the neighborhood!

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached by e-mail: