Upcoming summer has already consumed most of the spring bloom . But late spring still has many colourful delights to offer before it finally bids us farewell .By the time April arrives ,only Gulmohars shall remain ,along with possibly few kanairs . Golden rains of Amaltas shall begin flowering only by the end of April.
Forty days after I began my quest to explore the flora of Salt Lake ,I finally stumbled upon a YELLOW PALASH .There must be hundreds of Orange Palash trees in Kolkata ,but this remains the solitary yellow one that I have so far encountered . These yellow flowers appear whitish in the early morning dew. Goddess Laxmi is supposed to be holding a white-yellow Palash in her hands .This has somehow led to a belief that Yellow Palash tree’s roots bring good luck and wealth . As a result ,these trees have gradually disappeared and are now considered extremely rare.
JACARANDA mimosifolia , colloquially known as Neeli Gulmohar because it possesses similar bipinnate leaves as Delonix regia , is conspicuous by its bluish presence . These flowers occur in clusters, and paint the crown above, and the ground below in hues of pale indigo . The bloom is not quite as pronounced in Kolkata as is visible in the photographs of Jacaranda City of Pretoria ,or in Melbourne or Nepal (where they are called Bhangeri), but they do bloom twice a year, and are quite conspicuous.
I observed people touching their foreheads on the trunk of a tall tree,with huge ,red flowers ,possessing a very strong ,sweet smell .This was NAGALINGAM or Couroupita guianensis .It is also called as cannonball after the shape of its fruits. This hooded flower resembles a naga (snake) and hence is planted in Shiva temples.
There is a row of palm trees on which hang huge bunches of bright red , round , ripe nuts . In the first glance from a distance ,they quite resemble dates,but on closer scrutiny turned out to be rounder and redder.These were arecanuts (betel nuts) hanging upon the ARECA PALM (Areca catechu) tree. Areca nuts or betel nuts are carcinogenic .They have been so named after Adike (Kannada word).
There are not too many of them,but some trees of KACHNAR can also be spotted in Salt lake.One can easily identify the tree by its longish pods (fruits).The flowers of Bauhinia variegata have five overlapping petals ,and can be found in magenta ,lavender ,light purplis-blue and white colours . I spotted magenta , purple-blue and white ones.They are also called Orchid tree, mountain ebony ,camel’s foot tree and Raktakanchan (Bangla) .Kachnars are fragrant ,and quite edible as well . Kachnar curry is popular ,and its buds are used in making pickles. Kachnars are native to Southeast Asia.
ROSE of VENEZUELA ,botanically Brownea grandiceps is a soccer-ball sized, bright red bunch of small flowers ( having their own stamens).It hangs upside down from the tree crown,facing the earth like a bat ,full of nectar ,in wait for bees,butterflies and humming birds.
I had never expected to run into a CUSTARD APPLE tree on a city road,but Salt Lake holds a lot of treasures .There they were – two Cherimoyas / chirimuyas hanging in the middle of a tree,right on the sidewalk of the main township locality -the most delicious fruit known to man ,as per Mark Twain . Annona cherimola is native of South America and held huge importance in Inca and Moche cultures.They are placed as offerings in Laxmi puja .
JACKFRUITs grow on Jack tree which are around 10-20 m in height .These tall trees bearing clusters of fruits are not an uncommon sight in Kolkata. They belong to the fig family and are the largest tree-borne fruits among all. Artocarpus heterophyllus is a tropical evergreen tree,native to south-west India.It is the state fruit of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Jackfruit derives its name from a Malayalam word ‘Chakka’. Its wood is used to manufacture bodies of musical instruments like drums and mridangam.Buddha statues as well as priests’ seats in temples of Kerala are built from its wood.
To be walking streets and spotting a bird-scratched CHIKOO lying in the middle of a road ! Salt Lake is not a colony in suburbs.It is a prime location in Kolkata with a large population residing in it. I looked up and saw a medium sized tree laden with sweet-smelling chikoos.
Manilkara zapota is also known as zapota and sapodilla. It is a native of South America,and grows well in warm,tropical climates.This evergreen tree bears fruits twice a year.The fruit is a large berry with sweet taste and aroma.
I chanced upon a mess of yellow fig-like fruits scattered on the ground.It was strange to note that thousands of these inviting FICUS fruits , laden on the tree and fallen on the ground were being completely ignored by birds and humans .These weeping figs,or ficus bejamina as they are also called,are considered edible,but generally only bats and doves have taste buds for them.
This tree is native of Asia and Australia.It is the official tree of the city of Bangkok. Ficus benjamina is known to absorb excess formaldehyde from air,and hence is sometimes planted inside houses in its bonsai form.But it is also known to cause multiple types of allergies,hence is considered quite dangerous.
Tamarindus indica ,aka IMLI ,is a leguminous tree .It produces copius amounts of pod-like fruits ,whose edible pulp is used in cuisines all over.The seeds give oil,and pulp has medicinal properties as well .Wood can be used for woodwork.
I was also lucky to find POMELO ,the largest citrus fruit on Citrus maxima trees.They have soft white flesh and hard,outward core.The flesh is used to make chutneys ,while the peel may be squished into marmalades.
Many HIBISCUS varieties can be seen growing in various nooks and corners of Salt Lake. Red hibiscus are offered to Kali during Puja rituals,and are ubiquitous in Bengal. Flowers are large, conspicuous ,trumpet-shaped,having five or more petals and boasting of various colours. Hibiscus tea is made of dried flowers and is known for its red colour and tart taste.
It is easy to spot outgoing guavas,upcoming MANGO fruits and CASHEW as well.
Easy to spot as well are trumpet vines,botanically Campsis radicans .These creepers grow up to good heights.Their blooms herald the beginning of warm weather,and kissing the spring goodbye.I found orange as well as purple flowers .
Summers are knocking ,although squalls have kept them at bay so far . But there is no final escape .
Mangos shall now ripen.
Over to you amaltas, now it is your turn.
Such is the variety of vegetation in Salt Lake that it can very well be dubbed as Garden of Eden.