Seasons come and seasons go. With the New Year countdown come the merry days. Who could be oblivious to a Delonix Regia (Flamboyant tree) in full bloom? This tree, native to the neighboring island of Madagascar and introduced in Mauritius, brightens our landscape and nature with its clusters of red to vermillion flowers. The honeycomb flowers in terminal clusters secrete nectar, collected by bees to be turned into honey: a real marvel of nature.
Those can be seen while strolling along the streets of Mauritius, especially in Albion, Bambous and Mont Choisy. It is remarkable to note how for a few months every year, these trees are completely deprived of their leaves, baring their souls as if to tell Man how fragile and extraordinary life is. In fact, they totally shed their leaves for some time and those who are new at gardening might mistakenly believe that the wood is ready to dry and put in a fireplace. Fortunately, in Mauritius, chimneys are rare and are used more often as interior decoration.
The first buds appear in late October, gradually allowing these kings of nature to be brought back to life and claim their territory. Then, as soon as the first drop of rain falls, they begin to change in appearance, seducing passers-by. Mauritians would then say when trees start blooming: ‘Banané pé costé’ – an expression meaning that the calendar year is coming to an end, synonymous with a festive period.
In many regions where Flamboyant trees are planted, vermillion rugs would take shape on the ground. Light flowers with four red petals of about 8 centimeters in diameter and a fifth, larger one in the middle, stand straight, with a white or yellow streak. They are gracefully blown away and at the mercy of the trade winds. It is a live painting seeing an ice cream truck in the hot summer, a lady wearing a saree (multicolored traditional Indian clothing), or even children all dressed up under these vermillion red umbrella-like trees.
As the clusters are at a certain height, the Flamboyant trees only start to bloom after 10 years. Very often, truckers perched high up the tree gather their bunches to place them in the front of their vehicle as a symbol of happiness and prosperity for the coming year. One of my favorite spots in December remains the Catholic red-roofed church, Notre Dame Auxiliatrice, in Cap Malheureux. An azure sky and the conspicuous Coin de Mire in the background together with a beautiful Flamboyant specimen in the front make for a perfect picture postcard.
There exists a quieter spot in Bambous, on the Western Coast of the island, a beautiful alley where peace and serenity reign. The festive season is inevitably celebrated with a bouquet ‘Banané’, to brighten our spirits and boost our mood. Flamboyant, also called Flame Tree, whether you are red, vermillion or in rare cases, even yellow, you truly illuminate our hearts, our souls and especially our gardens. Your flowers and leaves will gradually wither away, but your beautiful long pods will grow again. We, Mauritians will have to wait a few more trimesters to see you in your ceremonial dress again and to gratefully say: ‘Banane pé costé’. New Year is coming. Thank you to ‘Mamalaterre’, Mother Nature for this wonderful gift. From nude to vermilion, we embrace the natural rhythms and patterns of our two seasons.