The Pride of India
August Musings
A couple of years ago, when in Australia, I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens at Melbourne. Soon after I entered the gardens, I noticed a beautiful black Swan swimming in the lake under the overhanging branches of a tree covered with beautiful mauvish pink flowers.
Our guide wished to know if any of us knew the name of the tree. It wasn’t difficult for me to identify the tree: it was the Pride of India or Lagerstroemia speciosa. Successful identification over, I was rewarded with Australian Shiraz wine in a beautiful café in the gardens – he went on to explain to me that the grapes for the wine also came from Asia.
I would request that our walkers make no such demands on me on successful identification of trees at Lalbagh till such time they can help me get the authorities to run a nice little restaurant which will offer some Indian and local wines such as Grover Shiraz from Doddaballapur.
Pride of India/Lagerstroemia speciosa
The Pride of India is variously referred to as Queen’s Flower, Lagerstroemia speciosa in Latin, Jarul in Hindi and Holematti in Kannada. The tree is named after Magnus Lagerstroem, a Swedish merchant who funneled specimens from the East to Linnaeus in Europe. This tree is found across the Indian subcontinent in the Western Ghats, Bengal, Bangladesh, Assam, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
The Jarul is a slow growing tree reaching a height of around 50 feet. Prior to dropping off in the dry season, the leaves turn yellowish red. The flowers bloom along with the appearance of the new leaf. The bright pink, pinkish mauve and purplish flowers appear in prominent clusters in large terminal panicles . The flowers have 6 or 7 petals crinkled and wavy and make a very attractive display when massed together. The flower panicles thrust out from the tree radially beyond the foliage towards the sky.
The fruits are found in great profusion and persist for a long time. Thus, one sees the blackened fruits of the preceding season together with green fruits of the current season. The fruits are globular and contain pale brown winged seeds. The tree is of considerable use medicinally. The decoction from the boiled leaves is very effective medicine for diabetes. In the Andamans the fruit is used to cure mouth ulcers. The roots are prescribed as an astringent, the seeds are narcotic, the bark and leaves roots and flowers used variously in Indian medicine.
The tree provides a resin. The wood which is a walnut colour or offwhite, is a hardy and valuable wood particularly for uses underwater. Traditionally the wood has been used for such purposes as building boats, furniture, canoes, wagons, buildings and railway sleepers. In Bangladesh and Myanmar the most valuable wood after Teak is the Jarul timber.
The Jarul is a sturdy good looking tree with beautiful flowers reaching out of the tree. It provides valuable wood and all other parts of the tree have medicinal uses. It is rarely that one comes across a tree which is as complete in all respects as the Jarul is. For these reasons it has been declared the State Tree of Maharashtra.
Lalbagh has a number of these trees. In August we are entering the end of the flower bloom. When in bloom, of course, the tree is breathtaking.
Variously called Farash/Purush (Hindi), Crepe plant, China privet and Indian Lilac.
This is another commonly grown species of the same genus known as the Chinai mendhi revealing that the plant is a native of China. It is small enough to be considered a shrub and generally grows to a height of about 10 ft with the flowers amassed in the extremities of the branches. There is considerable range of the colours of the flowers from white to dark pink, dark crimson, bluish mauve to purplish mauve.
Why most American descriptions use the spelling “crape” is inexplicable. However, in America the plant has been very successfully planted, so much so that the crepe myrtle has been naturalized through out the United States as far north as Massachusetts. The Americans have also produced a series of hybrids resulting in great varieties of derivatives of the crepe myrtle. They are planted along highways, everywhere in urban areas and with great aesthetic effect with often a single splendid specimen in the middle of a lawn.

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