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The Leopard Tree - A Tall Beauty or Public Nuisance?

Updated on August 25, 2014
Leopard Tree, SE Queensland.
Leopard Tree, SE Queensland.

The Leopard tree (also called Brazilian Ironwood) is a fast-growing, semi-deciduous tree that is drought tolerant. As such, it tends to love the conditions in Queensland, Australia.

While nurseries say that their height grows to 6 metres tall at 20 years, this giant in my backyard is an easy 9 metres (or 29 feet), if not more. Its roots spread quite far underground, so be sure to not plant it anywhere near underground pipes or concrete plinths.

The beauty of this tree is quite rare. It has a multitude of green leaves similar to an acacia, and at least two times a year they fall like red leaf rain. The oval seed pods drop profusely and the bark often peels off; and in spring clusters of tiny yellow flowers appear. So it is a tree that is ever-changing.

The Leopard Tree is actually a native of South Africa, so it is foreign in Australia.

Brisbane Pruning Laws Change

Street tree pruning laws in Brisbane City Council area changed in 2013 to allow residents to trim or even remove unsafe or nuisance protected trees, after application and approval by Council. The residents do not now have to get an arborist report by law, however it is best that there is a professional arborist on site if it is a big tree with many safety concerns.

This "Natural Assets Local Law" affects more than 60,000 Brisbane properties housing protected trees, including the Hoop Pine, Forest Red Gum, Jacaranda, Moreton Bay Fig, and the Leopard Tree. (More about it at The Courier Mail).

The Leopard Tree was once a staple of council tree planting around Brisbane, and certainly beautifies our street, but Councils in most of SE Queensland realised that the seed pods cause a trip hazard to pedestrians, and so they no longer plant them.

Can you Prune a Leopard Tree?

While removal of a fully-grown leopard tree would be a difficult job, and its massive root system meaning the stump would need to be left intact, the pruning of a tall Leopard Tree may not be as impossible as it first looks.

While the home gardener or your local tree lopper may baulk at the task of getting up this (in some cases) unclimbable tree, a certified Arborist would use a special elevated work platform such as a cherry picker to get the tree surgeon right up high. Some use a spider lift that can fit through garden gates and extend right up to 12 metres.

In addition, the arborist knows which branches to choose to allow the tree its beautiful shape, while still helping the sunlight get through to your garden.

Do you love or dislike Leopard Trees?

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      2 years ago

      Brazilian Leopards live in them.

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      C Bendixsen 

      3 years ago

      This is a Brazilian Tree and not South African. Leopards don't live on them, their bark has leopard like markings. It also grows to 20m. Please check your facts before posting.

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      3 years ago

      The foliage and undeveloped seed pods of this tree are eaten by common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula).

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      scott hutchinson 

      3 years ago

      Hi. I had a large Leopard tree in Brisbane which I had removed by Brisbane Trees. Like you said above, used an elevated work platform. Considering our wires though, I don't think they had much choice, lol. They write about a lot of Brisbane street trees they work on and have a page about leopard trees at

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      3 years ago

      The Leopard Tree is native to Brazil and not South Africa :-)


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