What's Blooming August 8 - 21: Candlestick Tree

Parmentiera cereifera (Bignoniaceae)
Candlestick Tree, Palo de Vela (Trumpet Creeper Family)
Origin: Mexico to Panama

Yet another member of the same family as the purple and golden trumpet trees but less showy, the Candlestick Tree gets its common name from its fruit.  Like the cacao and the jaboticaba trees described here before, Parmentiera exhibits cauliflorism, that habit of blooming and fruiting directly on the trunk and main branches. This habit always looks interesting, but especially so in the case of this tree, whose fruits really look like dangling candlesticks. Mature trees can be loaded with fruit but ours is still young and puts out only a few per season.

It is not typical for this family to produce edible fruit, and for a botanist it can be difficult to get past this fact; but, for the Candlestick Tree, there is nothing to fear.  The taste reminds me of sweet bell peppers, and the appearance is similar enough to cubanelles that they can be substituted easily in any recipe, either cooked in a stir fry or raw in a salad. The fruits are a staple in some parts of Central America, and available at many food markets in southern Mexico.

Not a very large tree, Parmentiera reaches a full height of less than forty feet. The flowers are trumpet shaped and a whitish-green color, followed by the waxy yellow-orange fruits. They can take a wide range of growing conditions, including a very light frost, and prefer well-draining soil and full sun. Plants are available at specialty nurseries and through edible fruit clubs. Ours is planted just south of the ramp to the bathrooms on the west side of the historic Selby home, just on the other side of the ramp from the Bread-nut Tree.

Text by David Troxell