Encounter: The darling buds of May

May is just behind us, but the familiar trees that lend their signature flush to this month are still in riotous flower

One reason I look forward to May, despite the sweltering heat it brings, is the blooming of Gulmohar (Delonix regia), often called ‘Mayflower’ locally. The tree is also known as Flamboyant and Royal Poinciana.

The glory of red!

All year, Gulmohar trees stay evergreen, providing ample shade with a thick canopy of branches that spread out in all directions like umbrellas. Though they do not grow very tall, their spreading canopies makes them ideal avenue trees.

A variant sporting orange blossoms…

The flowering season in India is April-May. It starts as a small smattering of red here and there in the beginning of April, and by May the tree the reds overpower the greens and take over completely. If flowering is a tree’s way of expressing a smile, then a Gulmohar in flower is resounding laughter.

The hardy Gulmohar manages to survive despite harsh weather and many other disturbances

By the time the monsoon sets in, the flowering season ends and the tree sports its green look once again.

One look is enough to tell you why the Gulmohar is a popular shade tree

The Gulmohar is originally a forest tree from Madagascar, though in the wild it is becoming increasingly rare. For this reason, the tree is categorized as ‘Vulnerable’ in IUCN’s Red List, despite the fact that it thrives in cities, gardens and alongside roads across the world.

A closer look at an orange variant of Gulmohar

And, for the uninitiated, the name Gulmoh(a)r comes from the Urdu words Gul (meaning blossom) and Mo(h)r (meaning peacock). Some inspired poet identified this tree as the peacock of flowering trees. How apt!

Text and photos: Sandeep Somasekharan
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