The flamboyant mayflower

Miguel Braganza

The mayflower or gul mohur makes its appearance in April and is at its peak in the month of May. It’s that time of year when the feast of Pentecost is celebrated with great pomp at Holy Spirit Church Margao. The flaming red, oval-shaped petals of the gul mohur (literally translating to ‘flower coin’) remind the devotees of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost. Since the time of flowering and the image of ‘tongues of fire’ coincide with the feast that is celebrated about forty days after Easter, this tree is also known as the ‘Pentecost Tree’. It is a beautiful tree when in full bloom – the Americans simply call it the ‘flamboyant’.

An extensive tree survey in the city of Panaji was conducted during May and June in 2015, and reconciled by another survey in May and June in 2016. The tree survey team comprised of five Botany students with knowledge of plant taxonomy, who worked under the guidance of Cassie Rodrigues, PhD Botany, and later the founding principal of the Don Bosco College of Agriculture in August 2015.  The survey found a total of 125 different plant species in different areas of Panaji city surveyed along the roads and in gardens and parks. The gul mohur trees on the Dayanand Bandodkar Marg and Jack de Sequeira road and in the public gardens could not be missed as they were in their full glory during the time of the survey. There are five trees in the Kala Academy compound and four large trees on the Swami Vivekananda Road in the heart of Panaji.

The gul mohur was first discovered in Madagascar, off the coast of South Africa as late as the 19th century. 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 an acute angle that can come crashing down on vehicles or pedestrians beneath, especially those taking shelter from the rain; and 3. It is a shallow-rooted tree that 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 the month of 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 make-believe war-games that haven’t been affected by the rise of smart phones and computer software. The petals of the gul mohur are unequal and the ‘standard’ petal is often a different colour altogether. The colour of the petals may be different shades of red or orange. In any colour, they are flamboyant!