Tipu Tree

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Tipu Tree / Pride of Bolivia (Latin : Tipuana Tipu)

***** Location: Kenya
***** Season: Short Rains
***** Category: Plant


Together with the purple of the jacaranda, the yellow blossom of the tipu tree dominates the landscape of Nairobi during the short rains season each year. The tipu is less spectacular than the jacaranda, but it is an endearing tree, with ample yellow flowers, a rough bark and a bright green canopy affording welcome shade.

These trees stand in a copse near Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, jutting out from the yellow blossom during the short rains (see the photo further down this page).

Unhuru Park, in the city centre, also sparkles with tipu trees, often sought out for shelter from the mid-day sun by the park visitors.

Tipu blossom in Uhuru Park

The jacaranda and tipu are often planted together, and the impression of a mass of purple and yellow flowers within a mass of trees, is splendid. This conjunction can be seen in Nairobi to great advantage round Aga Khan Hospital -- where the Doctors’ Plaza must surely afford some of the best waiting room views of the world (see photo below).

Like the jacaranda too, the tipu petals, after falling off the tree, stay strong and yellow for some time and look good on the pavement.

For some reason (unexplained in the botanical books I have seen), tipu trees often drip droplets of water while flowering. When I first arrived in Nairobi, I found this very puzzling, but the locals are well used to it and explained in response to my puzzled upward looks that the drops came from high up in the tree.

Text and photo : Isabelle Prondzynski


Pride of Bolivia, Tipu Tree (Tipuana tipu)
Family : Papilionaceae

A beautiful tree, with a splendid crown of small-leaved foliage, which bears plentiful clusters of yellow, pea-shaped flowers. It is of medium size, reaching a height of 30-40 ft (10-13 m). As its common name suggests, it comes from Bolivia. It is an attractive sight along roads and parks when in full blossom.

John Karmali, The Beautiful Trees of Kenya, Nairobi 1988


Tipu trees surrounding Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC)
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski


Pride of Bolivia, Tipu Tree (Machaerium tipu)

A large, spreading, semi-deciduous shade tree with yellow flowers, growing to 20 m but occasionally to 30 m; widely planted around Nairobi and elsewhere in the highlands.

Bark : reddish-brown on the trunk, fissured and flaking with age; bark on the branches grey and cracked. The sap from cut branches is blood-red and sticky.
Leaves : Compound, leaflets light grey-green, on short stalks, 10 to 14 pairs plus a smaller terminal leaflet; leaflets narrowly elliptic, up to 5 cm in length; apex rounded, often notched.
Flowers : Small, profuse, 5 crinkly yellow petals, orange at the centre, in loose, terminal sprays.
Fruit : Unusual and distinctive, a single seed with a flat wing up to 6 cm long, light yellow-green when young, later becoming hard, grey and fibrous.

Practical notes : Fast-growing, tolerating a wide variety of conditions and flourishing even in black-cotton soil, quickly becoming a substantial, well-rounded tree. Widely available in nurseries and deservedly popular for avenues, large gardens and golf courses, but probably not living to great age.

Tim Noad and Ann Birnie, Trees of Kenya, Nairobi 1989.


Tipu petals on a market pavement
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

Worldwide use

Things found on the way


market stall --
tipu petals wafting
past the fish

check-up OK --
then, next year’s appointment
with the tipu trees

Photo : View from Aga Khan Doctors’ Plaza

Haiku and photo © Isabelle Prondzynski


glowing cloud --
water droplets from tipu tree
wet the ground

~ Eric Mwange (Bamboocha, F3)
Meeting October 2010

Related words

***** Jacaranda blossom

***** Flamboyant (Swahili : Mjohoro)

***** Jacaranda (tropical tree)

***** Short Rains


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