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Found throughout Africa, India, and North Australia, Dichrostachys cinerea [dy-kro-STAK-iss, sin-EER-ee-uh] is an interesting plant belonging to the Fabaceae (legume) family along with the:
- Poinciana plant
- Powder Puff tree
Dichrostachys produces a variety of edible parts.
The flowers are used to create honey, while animals feed on the twigs to get protein.
The fruits and seeds also provide nutrition for wild animals.
Dichrostachys cinerea also has unusual inflorescences.
The flowers feature two colors and resemble small lanterns.
Some of the common names include:
- Chinese lantern tree
- Kalahari Christmas tree
- Bell mimosa
- Sickle bush
The name “Dichrostachys” refers to the two-colored inflorescence.
It’s a tall tree requiring specific cultivation methods for optimal growth.
Dichrostachys Cinerea Care
Size and Growth
The Chinese lantern tree is semi-deciduous and produces woody growth with the bark on the lower branches.
In ideal conditions, the plant can reach up to 23′ feet tall with thorns measuring about 3″ inches long.
The bipinnate leaves are up to 6″ inches long and green.
Flowering and Fragrance
- The flowers are the main feature of the Chinese lantern tree.
- The blooms appear in late fall or early winter, depending on the region.
- In hotter climates, the blooms may arrive slightly later.
- For example, in southern Africa, the sickle bush flowers from October to February.
- The flowers have bi-colored cylindrical spikes measuring up to 3″ inches long.
- The upper flowers are sterile and typically pink, lilac, or pale purple.
- The lower flowers are a mustard yellow or brown color.
- The colorful spikes are known for producing a pleasant aroma.
Light and Temperature
The Chinese lantern tree requires lots of sunlight and warm temperatures.
It grows best in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11.
It may tolerate short periods of freezing temperatures during the winter but is typically grown outdoors in frost-free regions.
Plant in an area receiving full sun or partial shade.
If temperatures drop below freezing for more than a few days during the winter, grow as a container plant.
Place potted plants near a window with indirect sunlight throughout most of the day.
Keep in mind the plant may reach up to the ceiling and needs lots of space for its branches to spread.
Watering and Feeding
Keep the soil moist during the warmer months.
If the area receives less than an inch of rainfall during the week, water the plant.
Adding several inches of mulch on top of the soil helps keep the soil moist and protects the roots from hotter temperatures.
Use a slow-release fertilizer in the spring to encourage fuller growth.
After the plant flowers, use a general-purpose liquid fertilizer.
Stop fertilizing in the winter when the plant goes dormant.
Soil and Transplanting
Use well-drained soil. Adding a little sand to regular potting soil improves drainage.
If grown in a container, transplanting may be necessary every few years.
Dichrostachys plants may eventually outgrow its container.
Transplant at the start of spring before new growth starts.
Use most of the old soil combined with fresh potting soil with good drainage.
Trim back the branches in the spring to maintain the size of the plant, especially if growing in a container.
While potted plants don’t reach 20′ feet, they can easily become too big for indoor growth without yearly grooming.
How to Propagate Chinese Lantern Tree
Propagate with purchased seeds or cuttings.
Sow seeds outdoors in the late spring or start them indoors early before transplanting outside.
To propagate with cuttings, select a healthy branch with multiple sets of leaves.
- Select a branch off the main leader to reduce the risk of asymmetrical growth.
- Remove the lower leaves from the branch and dip the tip in rooting hormone powder.
- Plant in well-drained soil with some clay and sand.
- Keep the soil moist while the cutting takes root.
- After new growth starts, transplant outdoors or to a larger container.
Chinese Lantern Tree Pest or Disease Problems
These plants tend to attract a lot of pests, including:
- Cucumber beetles
- Potato bugs and beetles
- Flea beetles
- Spider mites
- … and more
Use an insecticidal soap spray to protect against pests and treat infestations.
The Chinese lantern tree is also prone to bacterial and fungal diseases.
To reduce the risk of bacterial growth and fungal growth, give the plant plenty of room to breathe.
Cutaway any diseased portions of the plant before fungal rot or bacterial growth spreads.
Along with pests and diseases, another threat is the plant itself.
It’s considered invasive in many regions.
It’s listed on the Global Invasive Species Database due to its threat to agricultural production.
The fast-growing plant regularly invades fields and roadsides.
When growing outdoors, keep the root structure separate from other plants and monitor its spread.
The plant isn’t considered toxic.
The branches and stems are often used as fuelwood as they burn cleanly and slowly with no toxicity.
Suggested Dichrostachys Cinerea Uses
The large Chinese lantern tree requires lots of space to grow.
Outside of warm tropical regions, the tree should be kept as a potted houseplant and moved outdoors during the summer.