The ipe tree is actually any of several species of flowering trees within the Tabebuia genus. Also known as the trumpet tree, pau d'arco or bethabara, Ipe is sometimes grown as an ornamental in southern California and southern Florida for its prolific blossoms. A recent increase in demand for the tree as lumber has raised concern about the welfare of ipe tree populations in Brazil.
Ipe trees are indigenous to much of South America, particularly Brazil, where they are considered a national symbol. The trees grow in forest land, occurring sporadically, with only one or two tree growing in each acre. They are emergent trees, usually rising above the forest canopy in their natural environment.
The tree commonly produces many flowers that cover the entire canopy of the tree and impressive manner. Depending upon the species, ipe trees have white, yellow, pink, or red flowers. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and between one and three inches long. They formed in large clusters along the branches of the tree and are sweetly scented, blooming in spring. The leaves of the tree are 2 to 4 inches in length. They are compound was five to seven leaflets that are oval in shape of the pointed tip. The leaflets are green with a silvery appearance. The bark of the trees is brown and rough in texture. The fruit forms in pods that can reach 12 inches long. They are dry, hard and brown, containing multiple seeds.
While usually a medium sized tree, ipe can grow to over 100 feet in height and can spread almost as wide. Thorny branches grow from a single trunk and tend to droop toward the ground. The canopy is roughly rounded with irregular silhouette, and is fairly open and course in texture.
Ipe trees grow best in full sun but will tolerate a partial shade. They can tolerate a variety of soils, including clay, sand, and loam, as long as they are well drained. The plant is highly drought tolerant and moderately tolerant of salt. Propagation is primarily by seed or air layering. Ipe trees have no major pests or diseases.
The ipe tree is sometimes used as a specimen tree in landscape plantings for its fragrant and spectacular display of flowers. Also, ipe wood is extremely durable and resistant to warping and weathering. It is commonly used for outdoor applications, such as park benches, fencing, boardwalks, decking and wooden bridges. Its tight grain and attractive appearance also make it useful for furniture and flooring.
Because ipe trees are relatively slow growing and tend to be sparse within the forest population, they are at risk for significant deforestation. Illegal logging continues to threaten all species of ipe tree. Municipal agencies that oversee parks and recreation services are currently being encouraged by environmental organizations to use more renewable resources. Still, the demand for ipe wood is rising.
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