How autumn colours dress Chennai round the year

The lac tree   | Photo Credit: Pauline Deborah

It’s autumn all over Europe and America now. Everywhere you look on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Nature photography blogs, the grandeur and glory of autumn leaves stare you in the face.

“I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” writes LM Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables. October is the most acclaimed season of the year in certain countries because of the ubiquitous fall colours of red, maroon, pink, orange, yellow and gold.

Chennai may not have a set autumn October but the hues of many tree species growing in the city usher in the feeling of Fall almost throughout the year. Certain plants produce more red pigments that mask the usual green foliage colour. These plants in the path of powerful sunlight develop vivid colours, which is the normal principle behind the blooming of bright flowers.

In the city, these flame colours are visible in both common avenue trees and rare plants locked up within private gardens. The most familiar ones that put forth leaves of autumn hues are mango, country almond and peepal. While the red shining foliage turns back to green in mango and peepal, the bright leaves in the country almond senesce from green to rich red shades and litter the ground beneath.

How autumn colours dress Chennai round the year

The swaying of the copper-tinged young peepal leaves is a sight to behold. Given their commonality and richness of the coloured pigments, it often makes me wonder whether natural dyes or food colouring can be extracted from these leaves!

A small tree often hidden as a rare exotic in home gardens is Surinam cherry. Its leaves, when young and sprouting, display a thorough red sheen. Similarly, the first sight of life in the shaving brush tree are young maroon leaves, on what would erstwhile be stripped branches resembling rotten wood. The trees are found in a few private gardens in Nungambakkam, Cathedral Road and Adyar.

The shaving brush plant

The shaving brush plant   | Photo Credit: Pauline Deborah

When in Adyar, you can also spot the red barringtonia, a freshwater mangrove tree. Also found in Luz and Vedanthangal, these trees produce young flushed red leaves that mark the beginning of a new season, generally in October and April. The Malabar ebony in Guindy and Saidapet also burst forth brilliant red young leaves.

If you wish to enjoy an exclusive autumn in your own backyard, try planting the cannon ball tree, a species quite common in the city.

But the most classic of them all is the rare, visually-striking, deciduous lac tree (kusum) found in very few places in Chennai including Adyar and the Botanical Garden on Cathedral Road. The canopy it provides is straight out of a painting, with diverse hues of red and orange.

Amidst an unforeseen pandemic of this magnitude, these colours bring hope, reminding us of the permanence of change. As Robert Frost once wrote, ‘Sing a song of seasons! Something bright in all! Flowers in the summer, Fires in the fall!’

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 11:34:51 PM |

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