Encounter: The Copper Pod Tree

Though not as grandly picturesque as the Golden Shower or the Flame of the Forest, the Copper Pod tree makes its yellow-crowned presence felt all over the flower-carpeted ground

It’s a humid May forenoon and even in the shade there is no respite from sweat. The sea, a mere 100 m away from the Bharathi Park in Pondicherry, is a low rumble over the cries of playing kids and the croaking of crows. It continues to part with salty vapour under the scorching sun, pushing up the humidity further as noon approaches. 


Except for the kids and the crows, everything is in a tropical stupor unless you count the constant drip of yellow flowers from the trees. The park is a virtual monoculture of the Copper Pod tree (Peltophorum pterocarpum) and they have taken cue of approaching summer to erupt in a huge flush. The trees were planted as a part of a planned effort when the park was commissioned and they have now grown huge and old. The entire place is under their canopy and the dainty yellow flowers are everywhere. 


They carelessly adorn the Nandi statuette in the park’s corner, drop on incipient termite mounds (the termites do well to ignore them), cover the tops of autorickshaws on the side roads, tumble down the gnarled trunks and piling up in its crevices and fissures. They impart a yellow border to the stone slabs of the garden path and drape a yellow carpet over any space not taken by lethargic picnickers. The tree itself is not flamboyant partly since it’s not leafless when in flower – it lacks the visual grandeur of the Laburnum, Gulmohar and Flame of the Forest – but its impact on the surroundings is far more visual. 


Unlike the cassias the flowers retain the bright yellow colour even when fallen and also as they dry. The tree also answers to other names like Golden Flame, Rusty Shield-bearer, Yellow Flamboyant, Yellow Flame, and is called iyalvagi in Tamil. It’s a deciduous tree and grows to 15 – 20 m in height, but is known to grow much larger. The seed pods are translucent coppery-red when young, maturing to copper and finally black – each with up to 4 seeds. The tree flowers copiously in early summer but bears flowers throughout the year, sometimes getting a second flush in September. It has a dense spreading crown and is common as a shade tree in additional to its use as an ornamental avenue tree. The leaves are small and mimosa-like and the seed is winged. 

The Copper Pod is a native of tropical Southeast Asia and is found all over the region from India through Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. It’s been introduced to Pakistan, Nigeria, US (Hawaii and Florida), Philippines, etc for purely ornamental reasons. In its natural habitat it is found in the teak forests of Java and along beaches, mangroves and woodlands. 


Come summer, the ground at every corner and avenue where the Copper Pod had been allowed to grow and mature bears the yellow two-dimensional stamp, its outlines tracing out the trees’ canopy. More often one notices the tree by this nuage jaune sur la terre – the yellow cloud on the earth.



Text and Photographs by Sahastrarashmi 
Photograph of the Copper Pod Avenue by Rohit Tewari
Watercolour by Kirti Chandak

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