Spathodea - Flame Of The Forest - African Tulip Tree
Flame Of The Forest Trees
When one talks about the flame of the forest tree, three trees come to mind :
- Spathodea or the African tulip tree
- Butea monosperma or Palash tree
- Delonix regia or the Gulmohar tree
This article provides information on Spathodea or the African tulip tree.
Latin Name : Spathodea campanulata
In India, this tree is called "Pichkari or "Nandi Flame".
Flame Of The Forest, Spathodea or African Tulip Tree
About Flame Of The Forest, Spathodea or African Tulip Tree
Some other common names for this tree are : Squirt tree, Uganda flame and, Fountain tree, so called, as the soft flower buds contain a liquid that spurts forth in a jet almost 10 feet away, when the buds are squeezed. For this reason kids love to play with these buds.
The Genus Spathodea has just one species in the family Bignoniaceae.
The African tulip tree is native to Africa and grows from 30 to 40 feet tall normally though in favorable growing conditions it reaches a height of 80 feet or more.
Spathodea is grown widely in tropical areas. The tree prefers moist habitats although it can grow in drier habitats too, at altitudes from 3000 feet to 4000 feet. However, in moist areas the trees grows larger as compared to the ones grown in a drier habitat.
The flame of the forest, African tulip tree is drought resistant with average water needs. A rapidly growing, the young tree grows almost 6 feet tall yearly, it is a highly fire retardant tree.
It is grown as an ornamental tree since it has large and showy reddish orange to crimson flowers and in rarer instances even yellow flowers. The tree is also grown for soil improvement, erosion control and reafforestation.
Flame of The Forest, Spathodea or African Tulip TreeClick thumbnail to view full-size
More About The Spathodea Tree
When the tree has a lot of growing space and conditions are favorable it becomes a wide spreading and when large its roots can damage side walks and driveways.
The African tulip tree though can also be grown in a container or pot and blooms when even a few feet in height. The pots can be moved indoors when the temperature drops. So, it is a very versatile and easy to grow tree.
In Central America and the Caribbean, it blooms heavily in the fall and winter and less profusely almost the rest of the year.
The tree has naturalized in Hawaii. In Florida, it is in full bloom in early April and in scattered bloom the rest of the year. It grows in Southern California but displays its full glory in the summer and fall. It does not tolerate much frost and lesser still when young.
The wood of the tree is weak and brittle and tends to become hollow. The large branches drop off on their own as they age and are also easily shattered by high winds.
Spathodea leaves are large, broad, oval and smooth, and cluster together at the ends of the branches. Each leaf is made up of 5 to 7 pairs of opposite leaflets and a terminal one. They are dark green on the top surface and light green on the underside with prominent veins.
The leaves are quickly dropped when the weather becomes cool.
Spathodea Flower Buds
The flower buds are claw like, curved and arranged in concentric whorls. They contain a red sap.
Spathodea Leaves And Flower BudsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The flowers are bisexual and unusual in that they are borne in circular clusters in many velvety claw like buds that split open vertically with broad bell shaped flowers, of colors ranging from orange, crimson to the rarer yellow, emerging from the split.
The flowers when open form a cup like shape that can hold rainwater and dew making it attractive and easy for birds to drink and get the flowers pollinated.
Spathodea flowers for about 5 to 6 months in a year if the weather is optimum, that is, warm and dry. With a fall in temperature the flowers drop quickly and the tree goes dormant.
The Variously Colored Spathodea FlowersClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Spathodea Seed Pods, Fruits And Seeds
The seed pods are long and boat shaped and each seed pod contains about 500 tissue like, thin and winged, seeds.
The fruits appear like the fingers of the hand, pointing upwards and outwards, above the foliage.
The seeds are edible and the winged nature of the seeds aids in its dispersal and propagation far and wide through air.
Spathodea Seed Pods, Fruits And SeedsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Spathodea Tree Uses
- The wood is difficult to burn and thus is used to make the sides of a blacksmith's bellow.
- It is also used to make carvings and drums.
- The wood being soft is this tree is preferred by birds who make holes in trees for nesting.
- The soft wood is also used for manufacture of paper.
- The seeds are edible and though the tree is not toxic, the seed center is boiled to extract a poison that is used by hunters, on the arrow tips.
- The flowers provide nectar for birds.
Spathodea Tree - Medicinal Uses
The bark, flowers and leaves are and have been used in traditional medicine in Western Africa and some other countries.
Some of the medicinal uses of the African tulip tree are :
- In Nigeria the leaves are used to treat inflamed umbilical cords.
- The pulverized bark is used for dressing ulcers and other skin troubles.The fresh inner bark and a decoction of the bark and leaves are also applied as a lotion.
- The bruised leaves and flowers are also applied to ulcers.
- Honey hunters use the flower dye to prevent bee stings.
- Extracts of the bark, leaves and flowers are used to treat malaria, edema, gastrointestinal disorders and various other health issues.
- The bark is boiled in water and this water is used to bathe newly born babies to relieve body rashes.
- Decoction of stem bark is used as enema to treat insulin and non insulin dependent diabetes and also used to treat dysentery.
- Infusion of leaves is useful in urethral inflammation.
Medicinal Properties of The African Tulip Tree or Spathodea
There are numerous studies that have been done on the medicinal properties of the African tulip tree. Some of these are mentioned here in clickable link form. The links will take you to the relevant studies.
- The leaf extract possesses analgesic and anti inflammatory effects.
- The extract of leaves and flowers exhibit anti microbial properties.
- The leaves possess anti convulsant activity. It is non sedating and has no anti psychotic properties.
- Bark extract protects against renal damage induced by paracetamol.
- The roots have anti fungal properties.
- The bark has anti ulcer activity.
- The flowers have heart and kidney protective effects.
- The leaf has antibacterial, phytochemical and antioxidant activity.
These are just a few of the studies conducted on the medicinal properties of Spathodea campanulata tree.
Spathodea campanulata (Bignoniaceae) Fountain Tree
© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly
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