The beautiful Leopard tree originates from Brazil although despite its deceptively ‘African’ name! The smooth bark of this tree leads to the common name as it exfoliates easily, but incompletely. Dark patches are often seen against the light background bringing to mind the spots of the African Leopard.
The slender, deciduous Caesalpinia ferrea prefers a moderate or subtropical climate. In a moderate environment the tree will stay fairly small, but in subtropical areas (the Lowveld and Kwazulu-Natal), the Leopard tree can grow to a height of 15 m with a root system that mirrors the size of the tree above ground. It is therefore advisable not to plant this specimen close to structures or pipes as it does have an aggressive root system.
The colourful trunk of the tree is very ornamental and in addition the foliage is striking. New leaf growth is reddish brown to copper in colour, contrasting beautifully with the light green older foliage. The leaves are delicate and as such cast light shade which would encourage below tree plantings. Small, yellow flowers appear in summer followed by dark seed pods.
Caesalpinia ferrea is an ornamental tree that is ideal for a tropical style garden. However, the tree is frost and wind sensitive and the roots can be very aggressive.