They Bloom in the Sun
By “Awake!” correspondent in Barbados
DWELLING in the tropics or subtropics is much like living in a colorful flower garden for a large part of the year. Were you to walk about here in Barbados, mile after mile of flowering trees or blossoming plants would meet your gaze. You can see flowers at all stages of their life cycle, adding a touch of beauty and color to many small unpainted houses and extending much-needed shade to city streets.
In Barbados the sun and the climate are kind toward flowers, causing them to bloom in many varieties. Here one can see the bright-yellow Allamanda or Cup of Gold, the rosy flamingo flower (similar in color to the flamingo bird), the ginger lily and Ixora. The beauty of local flowers prompts individuals to talk about them. Let me relate to you some things I’ve observed on a tour of local gardens.
The Flamboyant, or Flame Tree
Imagine a tree completely covered with flowers that are rich scarlet in color! Perhaps because of this color and the tree’s size, which varies from twenty to forty feet (6 to 12 meters) in height, some call it the royal poinciana. The climate here is just right for bringing this tree to full bloom, when it seems aflame with flowers; hence, its name flamboyant, or flame tree. This is one of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world.
During most of the year the flamboyant is without foliage, due to the dry climate. But then something marvelous happens. A few weeks before the rainy season, as if sensing the coming downpours, these bare, dead-looking branches come alive and burst into a sheet of scarlet. Rather than each flower standing alone, the blooms form clusters.
Individual flowers of the flamboyant tree may measure up to five inches (13 centimeters) across. Each sports five petals, four of which are identical in size and color. The fifth one, however, looks like the proverbial ‘runt of the litter.’ Being narrow and slightly yellow, this petal appears somewhat malformed.
Though outstanding in beauty, the flamboyant has a relatively short period of bloom, lasting from a few weeks to two months. Thereafter it gradually sheds its flowers, replacing them with bright-green fernlike leaves. Also about this time pointed green pods, some eighteen inches to two feet (46 to 61 centimeters) in length develop. People use dried pods of this tree for fuel. Eventually, the leaves dry out and drop off and the pods turn brown. But we know that this will change with the approach of the next rainy season.
Frangipani—Ready-made for Tables
Another tree that blossoms out in our sunny climate is frangipani. This tree usually reaches a height of fifteen to twenty feet (4.5 to 6 meters), though at times it attains twenty-five feet (7.6 meters). It, too, bursts into bloom with the change from dry to rainy weather.
Early in the dry season its dark-green leaves drop off, making the tree appear lifeless. But as the dry season comes to its close, the branches of frangipani burst forth with clusters of flowers, containing perhaps fifteen or more blossoms in each bunch. Scattered blooms may appear anytime in the year. But frangipani puts forth its greatest number of blooms shortly before the rainy season.
In size and shape the flowers are small and uniform. They have a starlike appearance, with five overlapping petals that curl slightly at the edges. These petals have come out of longish tubes attached to smooth-skinned branches. The colors are either creamy white or pinkish red, and they always have a smooth, waxy look. This flower is well known for its lovely fragrance, which is especially noticeable in the cool of the evening. As a table decoration, clusters of frangipani flowers are just the right size for use as a ready-made centerpiece.
The Lovely Hibiscus
Nearly everywhere in the tropics one sees the delicate hibiscus. This flower is costumed in many colors, ranging from pale pink to dazzling vermilion. Some are vibrant yellow, others clear orange. Rather than appearing in clusters, individual blossoms droop gracefully at the ends of long stems.
The hibiscus flower usually measures about four to five inches (10 to 13 centimeters) across, and has five petals that curl back from the center. As with color, the form of these petals varies considerably from plant to plant. Certain petals feature a slight frill, whereas others are deeply fluted. Some hibiscus flowers have double, rather than single, petals.
Here in Barbados, hibiscus flowers serve many purposes. Some people work this plant into a hedge, so that blooms will poke out here and there at random. It is popular to pick hibiscus blossoms and float them in a bowl of water as a tablepiece. This is really no abuse of these beautiful flowers, for they last only twenty-four hours, whether picked or left on the bush. Compensating for such a short life-span is the fact that the hibiscus plant blooms constantly and heavily the year around.
The benefits of hibiscus are not limited to its flowers. From the seed pod of one variety comes the popular green vegetable “okra,” used in soups and stews. Also, the same plant family produces a bud that serves as the basis for a refreshing cool drink called “sorrel.”
I have only had an opportunity to describe briefly three flowering plants to give you a small idea of the natural beauty to be seen here in Barbados. So why not visit us and see for yourself the tremendous variety of flowers that bloom in the sun.