Tabebuia – strength and beauty

Just when the dry season began feeling parched, and after many of the “yellow” trees had moved beyond blooming into fruit and seed production, along came one of the “pink” trees.

It’s Tabebuia rosea, known commonly as the roble de sabana (oak of the savanna) or pink trumpet tree.

The pictures I took of the tree that is growing along our seasonal stream (here’s one, showing blooms on the lower branches and leaves on the upper)

don’t give the idea of breathtaking beauty that one can get from this tree, so I point you to an image at the at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute site. There I learned that T. rosea is planted as an ornamental in almost all the parks in Panama.

But it’s the common name, roble de sabana, that caught my eye when I read about it. Why oak?

The genus Tabebuia is certainly not in the oak family, where the flowers are in the form of catkins rather than in the form of trumpets.

Tabebuia leaves (image below plus a better view at the link) look nothing like oak leaves;



the fruits look more like green beans than like acorns.

In fact, Tabebuia is a member of the Bignoniaceae, or catalpa, family. Thanks to Alwyn Gentry‘s book A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America (Columbia, Ecuador, Peru), I know to think first of Bignoniaceae when I see opposite, compound leaves.

That’s as far down the checklist I needed to go in this case, because this tree is featured in nearly every tropical plant book I own, and I knew right away what it was from the pictures.

The genus name, Tabebuia, comes from the Brazilian Indian name for a species in the genus, and the species name, rosea, is pretty obvious from the color of the flowers – a pale to dark pink.

But, oak? Much of my information about this quality comes from the book by Willow Zuchowski, A Guide to Tropical Plants of Costa Rica. It comes from the high-quality wood of the tree, “…which is used in furniture and cabinets, tool handles, boats, yokes, interior finishing, and parquet.”

More interesting still is the information in The Plant-Book: A portable dictionary of the vascular plants, by D.J. Mabberley, describing the wood of other species of this genus. He says the wood is possibly the most durable American wood. Dead specimens of T. guayacan are still standing in the Panama Canal, and some 400-year-old beams in Panama are in excellent condition.

Strength and beauty.

At least one Brazilian species of Tabebuia, however, one with yellow rather than pink flowers, is being logged illegally in the Amazon for export, according to the Wikipedia entry on the genus.

By contrast, Zuchowski says that Tabebuia rosea was used in the Tree Trials Project in Costa Rica to test different kinds of trees that might be used to rehabilitate disturbed land.

Suddenly, I have a mission.

Our property is abandoned pastureland. We kept the trees that were growing here when we arrived. Now I know that we can plant more Tabebuia rosea trees without causing any harm and possibly, by doing so, we may help rehabilitate the land.

Strength, beauty, rehabilitation. Satisfying thought.

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One Response to Tabebuia – strength and beauty

  1. Pingback: Deciduous Trees in the Tropics | A Neotropical Savanna

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