“What’s in a name?” is an especially relevant question when it comes to flowers and plants. Their names say a lot about their histories and the countries from which they came originally. In India, for example, naturalized flowers and trees from all over the world share the landscape with indigenous plants and all have local names.
Gulmohar is the Hindi name for the flame tree, also called the royal poinciana or the peacock flower tree (Delonix regia). In Bengali, it is called krishnachura. The tree is a member of the Caesalpiniaceae family. The botanist Wensel Bojer discovered the gulmohar tree with its striking red flowers in its native Madagascar during the 19th century. The large, five-petal blooms measure about 4 to 5 inches across, usually flowering profusely in clusters in the spring and summer. Interestingly, the fifth petal is usually streaked in white and yellow. The gulmohar tree grows to a height of between 30 and 40 feet, with a graceful canopy of leaves that have the appearance of ferns and fold closed at night. The gulmohar is a widespread street tree in India, and it is much admired for its beauty.
Arjun is the Hindi name for Terminalia arjuna, also commonly called the arjun tree. It is a member of the Combretaceae family. According to Indian mythology, the arjun tree was the favorite tree of the goddess Sita. Growing to heights of over 80 feet, this evergreen exhibits small, white flowers, usually blooming in spring and summer in its native India. Arjun is widely used as a medicinal treatment for fractures, ulcers and heart disease, among other conditions.
Called neel iata in Hindi and neel lota in Bengali, “Bengal clock vine” seems a rather too common name for such a strikingly beautiful flowering vine. The name refers to the clockwise direction in which the vine winds around a support. Other common names are blue sky flower and blue trumpet vine. The botanical name of this native plant of northern India is Thunbergia grandiflora. The cup-like flowers of the Bengal clock vine are light-blue or white, with striped centers, mostly blooming between spring and fall. It is a member of the Acanthaceae family.
The Hindi name tikur (Curcuma angustifolia) stands for the East Indian arrowroot (ginger) which is also called the Bombay arrowroot. This springtime flowering plant grows from underground rhizomes. The blooms are popular as cut flowers for their lovely pink and other colors and for their long vase life of over a week. Tikur is native to the eastern Himalayas. It is widely used as a medicinal herb and is also popular as a jelly enhanced with sugar and lemon juice. Tikur is a member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family.