Formerly Caesalpinea ferrea, Libidibia ferrea got its common name ‘Leopard tree’ from its beautifully marked bark which looks like leopard print. Although it may seem to be an African tree, it is native to Brazil. This tree prefers fertile, well-drained soils and full sun. It is also very hardy and will survive drought conditions and cold tending to light frost.
It is semi-deciduous, with a flat-topped sparse crown. This species can reach mature heights of 10-15 m, with a trunk diameter of 40 to 60 cm. The feathery leaves of this tree are Acacia-like, these leaves are rosy red in colour when they appear in Spring. The golden yellow bell-shaped flowers appear in clusters in summer, followed by pods which are green colour when immature, becoming brown at maturity.
The Leopard tree fixes Nitrogen in the soil and some of this Nitrogen is utilised by plants growing nearby. It has a medium growth rate and is suitable for planting in reforestation programmes. L. ferrea has a root spread of about 10m, its safest planting distance from buildings is plus or minus 4m. The Leopard tree responses well to root pruning hence its suitability for bonsai. It can be cultivated for shade and is also ideal as a street tree.