There is a brooding thought about the excess rain, which seems to be drowning the city with grey overcast skies and a gloomy all pervasive chill in the air.
But look up at some of the taller avenue trees and there flowering spectacularly, with its large orange scarlet blossoms lighting up the skies, is the African tulip tree. It’s glossy, deep green leaves make a wonderfulfoil for its gloriously large, almost tennis ball sized flowers with an unusual yellow border on the edge of the petals.
The ultra showy flowers face up to the sky like tulips, hence the name, with four brown anther stamens in the centre. If you wonder at the finger like projections, pointing out of the canopy, those are the seed pods, which contain hundreds of papery thin, winged seeds. This evergreen tree belongs to the Jacaranda and Tabebuia family. It is commonly known as the flame of the forest and fountain tree.
J. K. Vasanthkumar, former director of Horticulture for 33 years in Karnataka says, “We followed the arboreal culture of choosing trees for avenues in Karnataka, so that they bloom at different times throughout the year. We chose the Spathodea campaulata or the African Tulip tree in large numbers because it’s an easy maintenance tree, evergreen through the seasons and it blossoms twice a year. It also has thick foliage which makes it an ideal avenue tree.
The bright parrot shaped blooms coincide with the Dasara and Diwali celebrations and the rains in the city.” As children while walking to school up Richmond Road, we would find bunches of the ampoule shaped buds on the pavement under a tree, after a particularly heavy squall. The flowers also attract several species of humming birds that gorged on its nectar.
We also noticed birds like barbets and woodpeckers gouging out holes for their nests in the soft wood of the buttressed trunk of the tree.
During the British Raj, this tree, because of its spreading shade, and beautiful flowers, was a favourite with the Gul Mohar, as an avenue tree. One of the streets you can see lots of them is the road leading from the Jayadeva flyover towards Kanakapura Road, which passes the Ragigudda Hanuman temple. In season, it is a joy to see the flowers both on the tree, and carpeting the ground.
“Many of these trees have been cut down along Old Madras Road to make way for the eight lane highway and the Metro being built,” says Vinita Sareen who lives in an apartment just off the road. “Hopefully the forest department will replant the same tree once the road work is complete.”
Since the African tulip tree propagates and grows easily, it is a great boon to replace lost tree cover. It just needs a lot of sun and initial care to establish itself, and then, twice a year the city can enjoy its magnificent blossoms.