Why visit the Kruger Park in mid-November? We were told it would be very hot or very rainy and probably both. It was certainly extremely hot when we arrived, the bush brown and dry with only a few green leaves at the tops of small trees, the earth baked brown and hard, where every last blade of grass had been grazed, the dams empty, and the rivers largely dry with only a few pools left. Surprisingly, with some exceptions, the animals seemed to be coping and looked in reasonable condition.
Looking absolutely stunning and seeming to revel in the heat were the Flamboyant trees in the Pretoriuskop camp. They were covered in their spectacular scarlet or orangey-red flowers offset by soft fern-like leaves. This tree can tolerate drought and seems to flower more profusely in dry conditions. Known as the Flamboyant or Royal Poinciana it was first collected in the western forests of Madagascar by the German botanist Wenceslas Bojer in the 1820s. He named it Delonix regia, a combination of the Greek words delos meaning conspicuous and onyx meaning claw, referring of course to the flowers. Regia is the Latin for regal or royal – another reference to the flowers.
The tree soon became a popular flowering ornamental tropical tree used in streets and parks, and was introduced to tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout the world. It is much loved in the islands of the Caribbean, as well as in Australia, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Southern USA, South America and of course other African countries. It is fast growing with an umbrella-shaped crown and is a valuable shade tree, as we discovered! Many birds frequent the tree which is believed to be pollinated by sunbirds. The one next to our bungalow had a constant stream of busy woodpeckers and the harsh cackling Green wood-hoopoes.
Seeds are encased in long pods which rattle in the wind, leading to their being called ‘woman’s tongue’ in the Caribbean! Sometimes the seeds are used as beads, for example in this bracelet from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection.
Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photos: Margaret Richards