Natural chandeliers of yellow and gold gleam and glisten in a camouflage of fluorescent lush green leaves. Sporadic invasion of bougainvillea creeper here and there, and a carpet of petals welcoming young and old alike laced with the sweetest aromas garnish the otherwise dry summer air. This typical north Indian summer picture decorated with resplendent yellow and golden beauties of Indian Laburnum, or more commonly known as the Amaltas, is a common sight to behold and relish in Delhi and other parts of India during this time of the year.
Known as Cassia Fistulia, or ‘the pudding pipe’ (for its fruits are brownish, blackish cylindrical pods), these florets erupt in full abundance during April-June. Its golden chandelier type inflorescence is revered as ‘Swarnapushpa’ or ‘Bahava ke phool’ in Hindi. Several hues of yellow and golden arranged in beautiful racemes – or irregular pedicellate patterns hang from this dry deciduous, tropical tree. Dotting major urban landscapes in the country as an avenue / ornamental tree, over and above its dominance in forests, Indian Laburnum is a sight to behold – a riot of pleasing hues of yellows to relish.
Catch a glimpse of the floral cultural, aesthetic and environmental relevance here.
Native to the Indian sub-continent, the tree is honoured as the state flower of Kerala. Found in abundance in the Indian sub-continent illuminating through south-east Asia, the flower is also the national flower of Thailand, with its golden hues signifying royalty, according to sources. Ranging from literature, paintings and other contemporary works, the tree and its floral magnets find their mention in select portions of Indian epics. ‘Kishkindha Kanda’ and ‘Aranya Kanda’ in Ramoayan, for instance, and also in Mahabharata, according to secondary sources.
In Kerala, the flower has its utmost religious and cultural significance. Known as ‘Kondrai’ or ‘Kannikona’, it is the quintessential offering during the festival of ‘Vishu’ or the Malayalam New Year. During Vishu, the golden flower is a mandatory offering, in addition to everything ‘golden’ that is harvested at this time of the year ranging from jackfruits, golden cucumber, mangoes and cashews.
These pendulous shaped golden beauties are evocative of one’s childhood when one would often mistake these summer delights for grape bunches! From a distance, sometimes Indian Laburnum showers can confuse children for the florets.
Medicine, food and green energy
Its leaves, fruits and flowers are known to have medicinal relevance in Ayurveda. In fact, in Sanskrit, the tree is revered as ‘Aragvadha’ or ‘disease killer’. The fruit pulp is known to have laxative properties, while its flowers are used in certain folk remedies. However, medicinal supervision is needed before consuming any part of the tree, as Ayurveda recommends.
Some cultures also utilise its green wealth in traditional preparations. The ‘world agro forestry’ quotes that flowers of ‘Amaltas’ are used by Santhals in India. Traditional recipes of chutneys and vegetables are also available online. Additionally, according to a few studies, the seed oil of Indian Laburnum has potential in green energy as biodiesel, and the leaves has potential in green manure.
It must be noted that with only 2.4% of world’s land area, India accounts for 8% of biodiversity of the world. The sun soaked golden beauties of Indian Laburnum are an attractive sight for bees, birds, butterflies and insects. With climate change induced threats to biodiversity all across the world, this tree with its plantations and conservation can be considered as a throbbing biodiversity hub with huge potential in agro forestry, butterfly rearing and apiculture or bee-keeping.
In fact, government of India led afforestation schemes such as CAMPA and similar other reforestation drives can be promoted and merged with livelihoods interventions, such as organising self-help groups (SHGs) around apiculture and empowering women through SHG linkages.
Ecological heritage and sustainability
A wide variety of flora lends Delhi its green quotient and provides for a stunning sight that needs to be preserved and conserved for posterity. Huge trees of Asoka, Banyan, Semal, Gulmohar, Mango, Neem, Jamun and Amaltas are essential constituents of Delhi’s ecological heritage and natural capital occasionally ‘greening’ our urban agglomerations. Keeping the importance of this co-existence in mind, nature walks, tree awareness workshops, tree trails are some events that are regularly organised in the capital. The role of governments through the years can’t be ignored in having conserved some of the last jungle patches in the city – the Ridge forest, for example – an important refuge for these trees.
Since it is highly valued for its ornamental quotients, Indian Laburnum has huge potential in contributing to aesthetics and environmental conservation at once, by greening urban architecture and landscapes, thereby, contributing to national targets of biodiversity, climate change redressal and Sustainable Development Goal target # 11 on greening cities and making urban spaces sustainable.