The tree that is most likely to catch your eye these days is the Gulmohar or the mayflower. And it is not for nothing that the Americans call it flamboyant. The Gulmohar makes its appearance in April and is at its peak at the end of May. Somewhere along the line comes the feast of the Pentecost that is celebrated with great pomp at the Holy Spirit Church, Margao as the ‘Purumentachem Fest’ a festival rooted in the ‘Festa de Provimento’ in the era before refrigeration and global trade wherein people would stock up on provisions for the coming monsoon season. This year the feast is celebrated on May 31.
The flaming red, oval-shaped petals of the Gulmohar (literally meaning ‘flower coin’) remind the devout of the artist’s rendition of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost. Since the time of flowering and the image of ‘tongues of fire’ happily coincide with the feast that is celebrated about fifty days after Easter, this tree is also known as the ‘Pentecost Tree’. The tree along the main road would make one believe that the Holy Spirit descends on Carmel College, Nuvem, annually in May. An extensive tree survey of trees in the city of Panaji was conducted throughout May and June 2015, and reconciled by another survey in the same months of 2016. The tree survey teams comprised of five Botany students with knowledge of plant taxonomy. The Gulmohar trees (Delonix regia) on the Dayanand Bandodkar Marg and Dr Jack de Sequeira Road and in the public gardens could not be missed as they were in their full glory during the surveys. There are five trees in the Kala Academy compound and four large trees on the Swami Vivekananda Road in the heart of Panaji. One cannot miss them if one is walking by; the petals are all over the footpath, too.
The Gulmohar was first discovered and reported from Madagascar, off the coast of South Africa as late as the 19th century. They might have migrated along with peninsular landmass as per the Gondwanaland theory of continents. It was soon cultivated across the tropical world because of its beauty. It is not recommended for roadside planting for three important reasons: 1. It is leafless in summer and so provides no shade from the scorching sun; 2. It branches at a very acute angle and the branches can come crashing down on vehicles or pedestrians beneath, especially those taking shelter from the rain; and 3. It is not deeply anchored in the ground and the entire tree can come crashing down during stormy weather. It is a beautiful tree for large open spaces and a thing of beauty to behold in May.
The tree bears large, sword-like, woody pods that contain about a dozen woody seeds. The dry pods remain on the tree, often till the next flowering season. Children often use these pods as swords in the make-believe war-games that are not affected by smartphones and computer software. These pods become the hardware for the war games that are about blood, sweat and tears instead of coca-cola and potato chips. The petals of the Gulmohar are unequal and the ‘standard’ petal is often a different colour altogether. The colour of each petal may be different shades of red or orange. But in any colour, they are flamboyant!