Colours Of Summer

A spectrum of trees flower in the summer and their sight is a delight for the senses!

With its intense heat, glare and dust, an Indian summer is unforgiving and sends one seeking the refuge of cooled indoor spaces. Yet for those who step out, the generous shade of trees and the sight of vines, shrubs and trees in bloom, exuding natural beauty, amply reward the senses. From shades of white to yellow, pink, mauve, orange and red, and in striking colour combinations like white and orange, are blossoms that transform trees into spectacular living breathing objects of admiration. While some trees bear both leaves and flowers making a lovely contrast of colours, some that are briefly leafless also make the sight of their flowers very eye-catching.

A Wonderful Variety

From indigenous to introduced, ornamental to unassuming, medicinal to hardwood, sacred to commonplace, bearing edible or non-edible fruits, growing naturally, in avenues, in landscaped gardens or in forests… a vast variety of flowering trees embellish the summer landscape. While some are dotted with single flowers, some bear clusters, while others have canopies filled with blossoms. If there are a variety of trees bearing flowers that open by day, some like the Parijat (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) bear blossoms that scent the cool night air.

Adding to the variety are trees in blossom like the orange and scarlet flowers of Gulmohar (Delonix regia), native of Madagascar and comfortably naturalised in India. The flower clusters of the native Jamun (Syzygium Cumini) that are largely concealed as they grow on side stems under its leaves! If there are large claw shaped flowers of the Indian Coral Tree (Erythrina variegata), there are tiny flowers of the native Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) that delight equally.

In Full Bloom

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Though the bougainvillea vines (Bougainvillea glabra) bloom through the year, they are most profuse in the summer, and their gorgeous cascades of colourful bracts make them an ideal ornamental plant. Give this hardy and adaptive plant, native of Brazil, half a chance, and it will resiliently grow in a flower pot or hold on to a tree trunk and make its way to its canopy, joyously meshing itself in the boughs of the host trees and spreading its vibrant bracts.

Of a quieter persona is the Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), also native of Brazil, growing solitary or as an avenue tree, with light feathery leaves and fragile mauve sprays that infuse it with a delicate beauty. Of a deeper purple hue are the blossoms of Jarul (Lagerstroemia speciosa) also called Queen’s Flower, a native of India that is often grown as an ornamental tree in rows or clusters in gardens. Their crowns are studded with large mauve panicles that last long, adding a soft colour to sun-filled parks and roundabouts.

Another beautiful sight is the Rain Tree (Albizia saman) native of South America, that grows tall with a spreading canopy, making it a perfect tree to shade a garden or a pool. Come summer and its large canopy is spangled with pink puffs. The Copper Pod (Peltophorum pterocarpum), native to tropical south-eastern Asia and northern Australasia, has two flowering flushes in a year, of which one is in the early summer; it looks charming as an avenue tree with its canopy dotted with rust-yellow coloured flowers.

The indigenous margosa (Azadirachta indica) or neem tree bears small star-shaped flowers in the summer whose pollen and nectar attract bees and insects; different parts of the tree including its flowers have medicinal properties. Also bearing white flowers in lovely dense clusters is the native Indian Rosewood or sheesham tree (Dalbergia sissoo). Another spectacular sight is the flowering of the Indian Laburnum (Cassia fistula) decked like a bride as it bears pendant golden yellow bunches of flowers.

A Hub for Birds

Apart from the shade and soothing sight they offer us, flowers nurture the natural world as well. As insects and birds flit listlessly in the heat, trees offer their shade and nectar. “In the summer some flowering trees offer nectar to insects, birds, squirrels and even some bats, which is a great boon to them. This is a symbiotic relationship as in the process of sourcing nectar, the insects and birds also help pollinate flowers thus resulting in tree propagation. One especially interesting tree is the banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) that bears figs, that along with its ample foliage make the tree a haven for birds and insects. These figs are actually a dense cluster of flowers bunched up. The female fig wasp enters the raw figs and lays eggs. By the time the eggs hatch and baby insects emerge, the figs have also ripened, and the babies feed on them. Interestingly, each Ficus species has its unique pollinating wasp species and there are about 800 Ficus species in the world!” says botanist Sweedle Cerejo-Shivkar.

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The native Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma) casts a spell with its scarlet flowers, justifying its name as if the tree is lit with orange flames. The stiff flowers bear nectar attracting insects and birds, with parakeets particularly accessing the nectar with their hooked beaks. Another tree with scarlet flowers is the Indian Coral Tree. “The Flame of Forest tree is called ‘Kimsuka’ in Sanskrit, which means ‘like the parrot’. The petals are shaped like the beak of a parrot. A dye obtained from the flower was used as gulaal (colour) during Holi. The cone-like scarlet coloured flowers of the Indian Coral Tree are filled with nectar. In fact, if the flower is held upside-down, drops of nectar flow out. The flowers attract sunbirds, leafbirds, orioles, starlings and more! There is often a cacophony of birds on its branches during the summer flowering season,” adds Sweedle.

While the Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) has two or three flushes during the year, it is a delight to see in the summer as creamy white flowering adorn the tree blessed with delicate foliage attracting birds.Additional roles

Mahua (Madhuca longifolia), native to the jungles of Central India, bears bunches of edible musky-scented flowers in the summer; these are eaten raw or cooked, and a drink is also prepared by fermenting them. Some animals enjoy eating the flowers: there are accounts of langurs, deer and wild boars enjoying the flowers and of sloth bears getting intoxicated having had more than their fill of these, which ferment in their stomachs.

Apart from providing sustenance, some trees also play additional roles. “Traditional farmers in Tripura predict the rainfall and carry out their farming practices, with the help of the flowering variation in Parijat, the night flowering jasmine. The Rat Poison Tree (Gliricidia sepium), an introduced species, is planted by forest departments around farming plots like live fences as it fixes nitrogen in the soil and a mixture of its ground leaves/bark acts as a rat poison, keeping rodents away from the field,” elaborates Sweedle.

And so it is, from soothing vistas to sustenance, these wonderful sights and insights of summer’s flowering trees soften the brunt of the heat.

Written by Brinda Gill

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