Thu | Oct 22, 2020

A sight to behold: Hope Gardens century palm blooms once every 100 years

Published:Saturday | August 8, 2020 | 12:07 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
A century palm in full bloom at the Hope Botanic Gardens in St Andrew. The century palm only blooms once in its lifetime and then dies about a year after.
A century palm in full bloom at the Hope Botanic Gardens in St Andrew. The century palm only blooms once in its lifetime and then dies about a year after.

A self-destructing palm tree that flowers once every 100 years and then dies is how the Nature Preservation Foundation website describes the century palm.

However, during its final rites, which can take up to a year and a half to be completed, the tree, which easily reaches 90 feet, is a source of immense joy for botanists and photographers alike.

That is because the century palm, which is widely grown in Southeast Asia, has the distinction of serving up the largest flower found on any plant in the world.

Christopher Creary, a professional heritage tour guide, told a Gleaner team during a recent tour of the Hope Botanic Gardens that he noticed in March that one of the palms had started to flower and, since then, has been documenting its progress, which has attracted a lot of interest. He explained that after flowering, the palm begins to seed, after which it will die, providing a host of shooting opportunities for enthusiastic photographers.

There are several of these fan palms, a name derived from the shape of the leaves, which are ideal for thatching roofs in many parts of India, where it is used as a source for manuscript.

Next on our agenda was a visit to the cannonball tree, one of the many names for the Couroupita guianensis, which is understandable since its fruit, which closely resembles a cannonball, can take up to 18 months to ripen and weighs as much as 15 pounds.

FRAGRANT FLOWERS

Though edible, the fruit is not usually eaten by humans because, in contrast to its intensely fragrant flowers, it has a very unpleasant smell. Usually, it is fed to livestock, such as pigs and domestic fowls, and it has many medicinal uses, including for the treatment of malaria and hypertension.

The sal tree, as it is known in India, is revered in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Buddhist tradition holds that Queen Māyā of Sakya, while en route to her grandfather’s kingdom, gave birth to Gautama Buddha while grasping the branch of a sal tree or an Ashoka tree in a garden in Lumbini in south Nepal.

Also according to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha was lying between a pair of sal trees when he died.

Our next lesson from Creary was in relation to the drift fruit tree, or Barringtonia asiatica, which he explained has a single seed that was crushed by the Tainos for use a tranquilliser, which they threw into a river or the sea to stun fish, allowing them to collect as many as they needed, with the remainder allowed to swim away when they recovered from its effects.

The only one of its kind in the Hope Gardens, drift fruit seeds are designed for long-distance travel and can float for a long time over many years, covering extensive distances.

Peltophorum pterocarpum (commonly known as copper pod, yellow-flamboyant, yellow flametree, yellow poinciana, or yellow-flame) is a species native to tropical Southeast Asia and a popular ornamental tree grown around the world. We found one just inside the entrance of the Chinese Garden.

The small, flat seeds, which are amazing for the size of the trees they produce, are a very popular food source for parakeets, which descend on it in a cacophonous feeding frenzy almost every evening while it is flowering.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com