The Silk Cotton Tree : The Flaming Glory

Spring is in the air. The month of March covers Delhi, the capital of India into a tapestry of colors. One can see a variety of colorful flowers all over the capital and the stately trees along the road sides flaming with red silk cotton flowers along with many others.

Semal or the silk cotton tree (Bombax malabaricum), the harbinger of spring, lines most of the important roads in central and south Delhi and is full of visiting birds, squirrels and insects who enjoy the brilliant scarlet or orange blooms and variety of food on these majestic flaming trees.

In the beginning of summer the tree beers long green pods full of silk cotton. They hang from the branches and as they ripen and turn brown the fluffy soft cotton escapes from it with the slightest breeze and floa like a snowflake everywhere. The strong dry winds carry them to far off places. Most of the time our balcony is filled with the soft cotton balls with a black seed attached to it. My boys often collect lots of such flecks of silk cotton and fill small pillows with it.

Semal wood is in great demand as matchwood. In India, almost the entire annual yield of Semal trees is reserved for matchwood industry. It is used to make plywood, being eminently suitable for light plywood containers. It is also used for packing cases, boarding, planking etc.

The light, buoyant, soft, strong, elastic, resistant, water repellent floss from the Indian silk cotton tree is used for stuffing cushions and pillows, upholstery, wadded cloth quilts and also as insulating materials for refrigerators and as packing.

The Semal tree holds a reputation as medicinal tree in Ayurveda. Every part of the tree is used from the roots to the flower. The one to two years old roots are known as Semal Musli are used very frequently by the healers as aphrodisiac. The roots are also astringent, anti dysentery, analgesic. It is given as a cure for Diarrhea. The paste of bark is applied during skin eruptions and inflammations. Paste of flowers applied over boils, sores and itches. Dried young fruits are given in chronic inflammation of bladder and kidneys. The gum that oozes out of the bark is astringent as is used as a tonic and in other form it is used in book binding and food industry.

The fiber derived from the inner bark of the tree is used to make ropes. Seed oil of the Semal is used in the manufacture of soaps and lubrication substances.

Young Flowers and Calyces are edible and are often used for making pickles and vegetable.

The tree is a delight to watch with its unique flowers and the variety of birds that visit it.

The flowers of this stately tree are at their best in mid February to March end. The tree sheds it’s foliage in the beginning of winter but by January its bare branches are covered with countless marble sized green buds which have plum color sheen to them.

In February, when the weather warms up a little, flaming red flowers appear at the top crown of the tree.

The tree is at its best in the month of March. The flowers range from deep red to orange-red and even a peachy color that’s uncommon. The trees, when in full bloom, present a striking blaze of crimson.

The large chalice shaped has five thick glossy petals that curl backwards. The deep center of the flower contains more than 60 stamens at a time. They grow in a circle of five unequal bunches with a bunch in the center. Yellow at the base their red tips merge into the flower.

The flower of the Semal tree has nectar secreted in its hollow which makes it a favorite with birds and bees alike. The cacophony of the birds like Myna, parakeets, crows, jungle babblers and many others can be deafening at times as they feed on the nectar all day. The birds and insects also act as pollinating agents.

The nectar also attracts insects which in turn bring the insect eating birds flocking to the tree. It is a feast laid by nature and thoroughly enjoyed by all creatures big and small. Even the fallen debris of the fleshy flowers are eaten by animals like squirrels and dears.

These pictures are from a park in front of our home. there are three massive silk cotton trees right there. The collony is dotted with them