Native to Central and South America from Guatemala to Brazil, the lapacho tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa) goes by several common names. These include Pau D’ Arco, the purple trumpet tree, ipe, and purple lapacho. It may be listed as having other scientific names causing confusion among gardeners, including Tabebuia avellanedae, Tabebuia plameri, Tabebuia ipe, Tabebuia nicaraguensis, or Tecoma impetiginosa. However, according to the University of Florida only the Tabebuia impetiginosa is the correct scientific name. The flowers on this tree attract gardeners and the medicinal properties have attracted medical scientists.

Lapacho Tree CharacteristicsLapacho treeCredit: Flickr: mauroguanandi

This is a tall evergreen tree that can grow to about 125 feet in height. It’s fast growing, reaching 20 feet in about five years. Growth then slows once it reaches 20 feet in height. The abundant pink trumpet shape flowers usually bloom in the late winter to early spring, with the bloom lasting about 21 days. The bark is hard and resistant to disease and pests.

Lapacho Tree Care

This tree thrives in USDA plant zones 9a to 12b and at temperatures as low as 22 degrees F, making it a good choice for adding to most any California landscaping, such as San Francisco and the Bay Area. It is drought tolerant and only needs fertilizing once a year after the bloom. It is also a messy tree once the blooms fall and later in the summer when the long seed pods develop and drop.

Medicinal Properties of the Inner Bark

Natives have long used the lapacho tree to treat a variety of illnesses, including arthritis, inflammation, fever, and even cancers reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. This has caught the interest of researchers and studies are ongoing to determine if or how it can be used in medicine today. The chemicals in the tree bark, called naphthoquinones, have shown in lab studies to kill cancer cells, fungi, viruses, parasites, and bacteria.  Researchers are continuing to study this plant to turn it into a viable drug that can be used to treat such conditions in humans without being toxic to humans. 

Lapacho TeaLapacho teaCredit: Amazon

Many health food stores and herbal retailers do sell Pau D’ Arco herbal tea and many tea drinkers claim it helps with inflammation such as arthritis. However, not all rave about the flavor of this tea made from tree bark. While taken in small dose in a tea may not have severe side effects, you should be aware that as with any natural herbal remedy, there can be side effects.  In large doses, lampacho or Pau D’ Arco can cause anemia, vomiting, bleeding, and dizziness reports the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Other Uses

Since the lapacho wood is hard and resistant to rot and insects, it is often used as a building material in Central and South America. It’s used to build housing, tools, boats and much more. The tribes in the region will used the tree wood for hunting bows. It is usually the bark that’s used for these purposes.