Libidibia ferrea

Libidibia ferrea. Leopard tree, Brazilian Ironwood.

 Libidibia ferrea. Leopard tree, Brazilian Ironwood.

Genus: Libidibia (formerly known as Ceasalpinia).

species: ferrea.

Family: Fabaceae.

Common Name: Leopard tree, Brazilian Ironwood.

Etymology: Ceasalpinia named after 16th Italian botanist and physician to Pope Clement VIII. ferrea: Iron referring to hard wood. Libidibia is derived from the vernacular name ‘ libi-dibi ’ or ‘ divi-divi ’ used for some species.

Description: Semi-deciduous tree with a wide, flat-topped crown will grow 10-15 metres tall. The short and usually crooked trunk can be 40 – 60cm in diameter.

Origin: Native to Brazil and Bolivia, South America

Foliage:  Leaves 2-pinnate; pinnae in 3-4 pairs, each with 4-8 pairs of oblong, asymmetric leaflets.

Bark:  Very distinctive dappled bark, smooth, grey, pealing to reveal paler patches. This gives it its common name leopard tree.

Flowers: 4-merous yellow petalled flowers in spring and summer.

Fruit: Flat elongated legume 6-10cm long.

Growth Requirements: Prefers fertile, well drained soil and full sun. It is,  however, very hardy and will survive drought conditions and cold tending to light frost.   

Uses: Shade, Ornamental park or street tree, although consideration should be made to plant away from underground pipes or sewers as roots will invade. Their pods are used commercially as they are rich in tannin’s, ink and local medicines (including the treatment of diabetes) and the high quality wood is used in furniture, turnery, and parts for guitars and violins. It will handle root pruning, so with its attractive trunk is often used in bonsai.

Maintenance: An ongoing cleaning schedule is necessary to prevent the trees from become a problem. They will drop leaves all-year round with increases in autumn. Their flowers fall as well as their hard black seed pods which can cause trip hazards on paths and cause injury if pods are run over by mower blades. It can also be used as a pioneer plant for its native woodland because of its tolerance to sun, reasonably fast growing and nitrogen fixing ability.

Propagation:  The seedpods of this tree are indehiscent and require assistance to open them. Once open however the seeds inside are relatively easy to germinate. They need to be scarified and soaked in warm water for 12-24 hours but afterwards will
readily take to soil and sprout within 7-15 days. Propagation from older wood cuttings and dipping into a plant hormone.


 Libidibia ferrea. Leopard tree, Brazilian Ironwood.


Sources of information:

  • Own notes from TAFE collage.
  • Wikipedia.
About Simon 98 Articles
Simon Schubert is a qualified Horticulturist who enjoys gardening and bush-walking. He has a keen interest in science, the natural world and particularly our environment. He would like to share his experiences and knowledge while learning better practices that will hopefully benefit the future for us all. Please join him on some fun adventures while learning about the life of plants and other interesting facts about our world.

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