This has happened just by the way. Other day my friend, Arun Pandey, from Chhattisgarh posts a picture of Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba), popularly known as Semal in North India on Face Book. The unusual part is that it has yellow bloom! This is new for me. And this is not common at all. That is why, Arun has posted this. Generally, Semal has red flowers, almost maroon or scarlet.
In Delhi, it’s maddening. Invariably one is pained by pollution, traffic, work and social pressures. In spite of spring, my whole attention is on green, yellow and red traffic lights; khaki files in office; spending hours glued to laptop, criticising environment ministry for its undoing, updating website or busy in media outreach.
How and why I am so blind to my surroundings, I am unable to believe and understand. Now, Semal being at the back of my mind, I screech to halt just near the Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I have not noticed this ever before – a Semal with orange bloom! Wow! The unique part is just 100 m further down is another Semal with normal maroon colour bloom. Both the specimen are in full bloom, loaded with tones of flowers. These together make unique spectacle.
I think, I must share this amazing beauty and uniqueness with friends. I make mental note of which spot and what time of the day to photograph these trees to get right composition and right Sunlight. I think, I will work out a day, in the coming few days, with lighter work pressure and carry my professional equipment. I know the bloom would not vanish soon.
My mind is fully awake to Semal. Yes, of course, other blooms also get registered. I am mesmerised by Kachnar (Phanera variegate), just next to my house in our small garden in full bloom – all flowers, no leaf. Next day, I have to attend National Green Tribunal, an environmental court for a petition for protection of wetlands of the country. I take a road through the heart of the city. Oh, wherever I see, now and again, I come across Semal. Semal as it is, is a huge tree with massive trunk and spiral branches. Near liberty Theatre on New Rohtak Road there are several Semals. The traffic is so thick that I barely take a note of which tree to photograph subsequently on photo shoot day. Here again, I notice a specimen with orangish bloom.
When I am about to reach NGT, and negotiate Bara Khamba Road roundabout, there is massive maroon round canopy protruding from middle of buildings and almost reaching the sky, of a Semal growing at Mandi House, near the Metro station by the same name.
Next day, I have to go again to NGT. That is so much the better. I take down town route. I shoot the Semals near Liberty Theatre. I wonder, what composition to use. I decide to include houses, shops, people and vehicles in frame to involve the urban landscape. What surprises me, is the ingenuity of the Horticulture Department – planted a Semal tree at the median to a narrow road! They are not so big presently, but will grow into traffic stoppers in times to come – Incidentally, one young tree has orange flowers with petals having reddish tips.
When I pass by Gole Market, I see several Semal trees, mostly normal red – the dropped matured flowers all over the foot path, on bushes, on roof of low houses, on fences…
After attending to the work at NGT, I decide, I will shoot Lajpat Nagar Metro Station wonder.
I am passing though Lutyens‘ Delhi i.e. central part of New Delhi, largely developed by the British for offices and residences of the power that be.
India Gate is a famous landmark here. There are about a dozen roads radiating from around it. There is non-stop, fast running traffic. Suddenly, I notice a Semal tree, which has still different bloom – it is orangish yellow! I cannot miss this. I dare to stop the car, as closer to foot path as possible, and put it on blinker and within 2-3 minutes finish the shoot. Now, the problem is that I wish to take closer shot and I am in extremely right lane while the tree is in a house at the edge of the extreme left lane. I back up in my lane for about 100 m so that the destination can be reached diagonally. Yes, I am able to do it – Happy to taken closer shots.
From Central Delhi, I drive to periphery of South Delhi. On flyover adjacent to Lodhi Hotel, I notice trees with lighter red bloom and little further down two trees with very heavy and thick bloom of regular maroon colour. I get good shots.
Another half a km, on Defence Colony Flyover, I find a Semal with almost yellow bloom! Wonderful. The canopy is parallel to the railing of flyover. So close, I can almost touch. I look down and the tree has been entirely circled by shanties – the tree appears to growing out of roof of one of these houses. Roof of all the surrounding houses is covered with Semal flowers. I notice a tree about 200 m, along the road below the flyover. That’s profile picture of a yellow bloom Semal.
And another half a km, I stop 100 m short of Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I document the orange and maroon bloom trees together with a focus on their surviving in middle of maddening traffic and habitation all over.
Delhi has very good greenery base. There are trees such as Silk Cotton, Indian laburnum (Cassia fistula) commonly known as Amaltas, Gulmohar (Delonix regia) with conspicuous reddish bloom which paint the city bright and beautify. There are trees such as neem (Azadirachta indica) and jamun (Syzygium cumini). Of course, there is real wilderness with Aravalli Hill Range originating here and passing across the city with its scrubby and dry deciduous forests.
After enjoying the Semal shoot day, I feel like yelling, ‘hey ladies and men, get out of rat race and look around and enjoy and appreciate nature. It brings in real cheer – cheers’.
Leafless silk cotton is a sight to admire
At every nook and corner, massive & lofty
Loaded with bloom, it’s tons of flowers
Delhi is painted scarlet, maroon, red and orange
Birds are drunk of syrupy nectar &
Soon fruits ripen & cotton floss flies around
It’s a snowfall lookalike in summer in Delhi
Red Silk Cotton (Bombax Ceiba)
Red Silk Cotton grows into a huge tree – 20-30 m high. The bole is straight, covered with short, stout, straight and conical prickles up to 1.2 cm long when young, but these are sloughed off in older parts of trees. The bark is pale ashy to silver grey in younger and middle aged trees but becomes rough with irregular vertical cracks in older trees. The wood is soft wood.
The leaves are palmately compound (look like the palm of the human hand), and 15- 30 cm long. Each leaf comprises five-to-seven leaflets, measuring 10-15 cm long and 7-10 cm wide, and arranged like the fingers of the hand, and radiating from a common petiole up to 20 cm long.
Flowering occurs profusely between February and March and is conspicuous on the leafless tree. Flowers occur singly or in clusters, large (7-12 cm across), bisexual, open, and cup-shaped, fleshy and filled with nectar. Calyx is cup-shaped with three lobes and 3-5 cm in diameter. Petals are 8-12 cm long, scarlet or sometimes maroon or orange (rarely yellowish), and fleshy.
Fruit is a capsule, oblong to ovoid, about 10-15 cm long, narrowed at both ends five-valved, light green when young, turning brown at maturity. The inner epidermis of the fruit wall produces the floss. At maturity, the seeds get surrounded by the white floss. The seeds are obovoid, smooth and 6-9 mm long. The surrounding floss helps them easily float in the air currents and get dispersed. This is what given the species name of silk cotton.
An interesting fact about the possible life of a B. ceiba is that a 727-year-old tree of the species in Mo Pagoda, Nghi Duong Hamlet, Ngu Phuc Commune in Vietnam was given the status of a heritage tree of Vietnam in March 2011.