Spathodea is a large tree growing upto 30m. It has a smooth, light
brown, almost whitish, trunk which is sometimes buttressed. The
tree is most often straight and tall. The leaves of the Spathodea
are large and smooth and appear in pairs. They are dark green, deeply
veined and oval shaped. The tree is deciduous especially during
hot weather in dry areas. In other areas, however, it rarely loses
all its leaves.
flowers are the most striking part of this tree and make it instantly
recognizable. They are orange and crimson and appear in clusters
above the foliage. At first one notices the heavy masses of velvety
dark olive green buds in up-turned whorls. These then metamorphose
into the large crumpled bell like flowers.
fruits of the Spathodea appear to be like green fingers of a hand
pointing upwards and outwards over the foliage. They are six to
eight inches long and smooth. Hunters in Africa used to boil the
centre of these nuts to get a poisonous liquid.
Spathodea campanulata gets its name from the Greek word for “spathe”
which refers to the ladle-like shape of the petals and from the
bell-like shape (campanulata) of the flower as a whole. It is known
as the Tulip tree again for the shape of its flowers and the Fountain
tree because of the liquid contained in the flowers. This liquid
can be squeezed out in a fountain and provides endless entertainment
to young children.
liquid is fairly foul smelling and the tree has been referred to
as the “Choo gaha” in Sinhala! The other Sinhala name
is Kudaella gaha which possibly refers to the fact that the liquid
can be squeezed out of the flower like the blood of a leech. The
Tamil name is Patadi.
Spathodea was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1873 from West Africa and
is grown widely for shade, as a wind break and for ornamental purposes.
It grows well upto 4000 feet and can be seen throughout the tea
estates in the hill country. In Colombo the Spathodea can be seen
on Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Spathodea Avenue unfortunately is now bare
of this tree.
by: Ruk Rakaganno, The Tree Society of Sri Lanka.