Spring and summer finds many tropical trees in full floral glory across the large nation of India. The winter dry season encourages some tree species to bloom, but the return of warmth and monsoon rains in spring and summer brings many other species into blossom.
Also known as the royal poinciana or flamboyant tree, gul mohr (Delonix regia) is the Hindu name, and rakta chura is the Bengali name, for this April-blooming tree. "Gul mohr" literally translates to "peacock flower," referring to the bold red, orange-red and yellow colors of the five-petaled flowers that fully cover the tree when deciduous.
January through March finds the palas or "flame-of-the-forest" (Butea monosperma) in bloom, particularly in central India and the Western Ghats region. The wood of the palas is used by Hindus to bless sacred calves. The orange-red flowers of the tree, which occur when it is leafless, occur in clusters on branch tips. The individual flowers look like parrot peaks, giving rise to another common name: "parrot tree."
The asok or "sorrowless tree" (Saraca indica) is the tree under which Buddha was born in the 6th century. According to D.V. Cowen, author of "Tropical Trees in India," ancient Indians believed that an asok tree would bloom only if it grew where a woman had walked. In fact, from February to May, bright yellow flowers change to tones of orange and finally crimson before dropping away. This native tree is slow-growing and is regarded as "sorrowless" as it is the "tree of love." Bengal women eat the flower buds and Hindu mothers drink water filled with asok blossoms to protect their children from worry and grief, according to Cowen.
English-speakers recognize this tree as the frangipani or "crimson temple tree" (Plumeria kubra or Plumeria incarnata). Both Buddhists and Muslims that reside in India regard this small, winter-deciduous tree as a tree of immortality. Ugly and dead-looking when its large leaves are absent, gulachin can bear its fragrant blossoms from the seemingly dead branch tips in late winter onwards, when warmth is common.
In cool, dry winter months, kachnar loses its leaves and displays its orchid-like blossoms all over the branch canopy. Also known as "mountain ebony" (Bauhinia variegata), the flowers are lightly scented and range in color from magenta, mauva, pink or white.
Hindus call it mandara, while those who speak Bengali refer to it as "rakta madar." English-speakers call it the "coral tree" (Erythrina indica). From January to March, this plant's bare, thorny branches bear scarlet-red flowers that look like pointy bird beaks in clusters. Traditionally, Indians would clip branches and stick them into the soil where they would take root in the rainy season, and thanks to the thorns, would help corral cattle and keep them on the correct property.
Arjuna (Lagerstroemia indica) is called "queen's crape myrtle" in English. From April to July, the branch tips display upright, pyramid-like clusters of violet-mauve or rosy pink flowers. This tree gradually loses its foliage as the rainy season ends in autumn, but its branches are only briefly barren before the bright light green leaves return by March.
Amaltas or "bandarlathi" (Cassia fistula) produces golden-yellow, drooping chains of flowers in flushes in both March and May. This deciduous, Indian native tree attracts monkeys that savor the sweet fruit pods that follow the ornate flowers. English names for this glorious tropical tree include the "golden shower" or "Indian laburnum."
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