in our backyard Environment

How the Gulmohar tree lights up our lanes

In full bloom: A Gulmohar tree near India Gate   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

One of the most beautiful trees in the world, the Gulmohar (Delonix regia), also called the Royal Poinciana, or sometimes the flame tree or fire tree, has been an inspiration for poets, writers, and artists across the world. Its scarlet flowers bloom in April and May, and it is perhaps one of the oldest ornamental trees to have been planted with one of the earliest records of cultivation in India. This comes from Sewree, near Mumbai, from way back in 1840, says Pradip Krishen’s Trees of Delhi.

In non-flowering time you’ve probably stood in its shade, not realising that you’re under a Gulmohar. It is abundant and familiar, which is why it is often referred to as the ‘street tree’.

A middle-sized tree, Gulmohar likes a warm tropical climate and has disappeared from most of its ideal wild range in Madagascar (where the tree’s first lone specimen was found in 1828). Owing to its ornamental brilliance, it has been planted and colonised in several sub-tropical and tropical countries. Although the tree thrives in most soil conditions (though not in very dry or frosty conditions), it appears in most parts of Delhi-NCR, but it is not native to the land.

    Being a deciduous tree, the leaves start turning yellow and shedding in November. The tree remains bare until most of March. During this period, it functions on minimal nutrients and water. Towards the end of March, new leaves with about 10-20 pairs of side stalks, with each stalk bearing up to 30 pairs of small blunt leaflets start filling the tree. The flowers of the Gulmohar appear in loose clusters, each with five spoon-shaped petals that have wrinkly edges. Four are scarlet and one primarily white, with spatters of red and yellow on it. The tree blooms more when it gets an additional supply of water, apart from the ground water it has access to.

    The tree has a shallow-root system, which makes it quite vulnerable to damage in storms. It doesn’t have much timber value; neither does it have too many medicinal uses. You’d be planting a Gulmohar for its shade and beauty. The light brown bark facilitates easy hole-excavations, making it a favourite among cavity-nesting birds like the Coppersmith Barbet, Brown-headed Barbet, Common Myna and more.

    The Gulmohar has a cultural significance in Kerala. A popular belief is that when Jesus was crucified, his blood was shed on the flowers of the Royal Poinciana tree in the vicinity, which gave its flowers that vivid scarlet colour.

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    Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 8:21:14 AM |

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