Name: Spathodea campanulata
Native Range: West Africa
Introduced Range: African tulip trees can be found in many countries throughout Central and South America, Asia, and the Caribbean. They are primarily invasive in the South Pacific.
Introduction: Now a widespread and problematic species throughout Australia and the Pacific Islands, including Hawai’i, the Galapagos, Fiji, Palau, and more, it was largely intentionally introduced in the 1900s as a street and household ornamental tree.
Why are they harmful?: Known for their bright, trumpet-shaped flowers, these fast-growing trees can quickly spread in agricultural areas, forest plantations, and natural ecosystems. African tulip trees crowd out native species and are extremely difficult to remove as they can grow back from root fragments and its wind-dispersed seeds. They can quickly become the dominant forest tree which has detrimental impacts on the vines and animals that depend on native trees.
The ecological and economic impacts are immense. For example, in Fiji, agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, but only 16% of the island is suitable for farming. Many locals will clear sections of land to make it more amenable to farming, resulting in damaged land that is ideal for colonizing trees like the African tulip. The problem in Fiji as grown over the last ten years, and now African tulip trees make up 20% of regrowth forests previously cleared for agriculture. In a survey conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the trees appeared on 98% of the farms surveyed.
Methods of control: Young trees can be hand-pulled when the soil is soft, but adult trees need to be chopped down and their stumps coated with herbicide. Herbicides can either be painted, sprayed, or injected into the tree.