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What is Bignoniaceae?

By Robert Ferguson
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Bignoniaceae is a horticultural family consisting of well over 700 species. The family is made up of a variety of trees — such as the calabash and jacaranda — and flowering plants and shrubs — such as the tecomeria capensis; macfadyena unguis-cati, or cat’s claw vine; and the pandorea jasminoides, or bower vine, found in New South Wales, Australia. Less common members of the family include herbaceous plants and root-bound woody vines known as lianas.

A striking feature of Bignoniaceae is the assortment of colorful, showy flowers produced by members of the family. Flowers range in size from very large singular and tubular blossoms to small, multi-stemmed blossoms with delicate petals. With their flowers of various sizes and colors, plants in this family are often grown as ornamentals.

Many uses have been found for the flowers, plants and trees in this family. Some are featured in ornamental landscaping or in decorative gardens, while others serve as natural remedies for specific health issues. Larger tree varieties within the Bignoniaceae family supply timber for cabinet making, veneers and other construction-related projects.

Members of the Bignoniaceae family are found throughout the world. Primarily, they grow within sub-tropical or tropical environments in North and South America, India, China, Australia and the southern hemisphere of Africa. In addition to their geographic diversity, individual family members have their own distinctive characteristics. These may include having multiple whorled leaves per stem, or having the ability to produce fruit. The means of pollination of these species also varies, and can occur via birds, bats or insects.

The Tabebuia donnell-smithii — also known as the primavera or gold tree — is found in Mexico and Central America. The Caribbean trumpet tree and the Podranea ricasoliana, or pink trumpet vine, are found in South Africa. The Kigelia Africana, or sausage tree, is found in West Africa and achieves pollination via bats. This tree produces both flowers and fruit, and the fruit is used for medicinal purposes.

Other examples from the Bignoniaceae family are the Yellow Elder and the Jacaranda mimosifolia trees found in North America. In Hawaii, the Crescentia cujete, or calabash tree, produces flowers and large elongated fruit that are dried and used in traditional hula dances. Like the Kigelia Africana, the calabash tree is also pollinated by bats.

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