Flame of the Forest

Flame of the Forest (Delonix regia), introduced into Singapore during the first half of the 19th century, belongs to the family Leguminosae (Caesalpinaceae). It is planted as a shade tree in parks and open spaces due to its broadly-spreading crown. However, it is primarily seen as an ornamental tree species recognised for its exuberant scarlet flowers when it is in bloom.

Origin and distribution
Flame of the Forest is a native of Madagascar. It was discovered by botanist Wenzel Bojer in 1820 who then introduced it to Mauritius. Since then, the tree has been planted in most of Africa and Asia, including the Southeast Asian region. Growing in warm humid areas from sea level up to 1000 m in altitude, it can also grow in areas where there is no frost, such as South Florida and South California, the United States.

It was introduced into countries in Southeast Asia in the early part of the 19th century and into Singapore as early as 1840. In Singapore, it is grown in parks, open spaces, and by the roads. However, it is not extensively planted as a roadside tree, as its tiny leaflets and frequent leaf shed can present some cleaning problems. Examples of its location in Singapore today include Fort Canning Park and Beach Road, near the Gateway building.

The Flame of the Forest is a medium to large-sized tree and can reach up to 20 m in height. It has a short trunk, grey and smooth bark and rootlike buttresses. Its crown is broad and umbrella-shaped, consisting of fine, delicate, lacy foliage. Leaves are bi-pinnate compound, 20 to 60 cm. long, with 9 to 24 pairs of opposite side-stalks and numerous small leaflets. The leaflets are small and oblong, 8 to 10 mm long and 3 to 4 mm wide. Flowers are bisexual, large and showy. Growing in dense clusters and sometimes covering the entire crown, the flowers are flame-coloured or scarlet and faintly scented. The flower is made up of the calyx: five free sepals which are green on the outside and crimson inside; corolla : five bright red petals, one of which has a prominent white patch streaked with red; ten stamens which are red with a white base and a green ovary. Fruits are long pods, dangling down sword-like from the branches. When the fruits mature, they split open into two halves to disperse elongated, hard seeds.

The Flame of the Forest is a semi-deciduous tree. Leaves normally fold at dusk but remain spread if illuminated by street lamps. Leaves are shed rather irregularly, often different branches at different times, but sometimes all the branches at the same time. Flowering occurs after a prolonged dry season. After a leaf drop, the tree remains bare for several months. With the coming of wet season, new leaves are produced with new flowers, resulting in the characteristic scarlet, orange to crimson blooms. The attractive flowers can remain on the crown for several weeks.

The Flame of the Forest is often described as a spectacular and beautiful tree when it is in full bloom. Thus, it is planted as an ornamental tree in parks, gardens and along roads. In addition, its broad umbrella-shaped crown makes it a good shade tree. Its bark is supposed to be a febrifuge (cooling drink to prevent fever).

Variant names
Common name: Flame of the Forest.
Scientific name: Delonix regia or poinciana regia.
Other names: Flamboyant, Merak (Indonesia), Semarkat api (Malaysia), Seinban (Myanmar), Cabellero (Philippines), Hang nok yung farang (Thailand), Phuong (Vietnam).

Nureza Ahmad

Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia : An illustrated field guide (p. 107). Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP).
(Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)

Kwok, P. K. P. (1986). A guide to the Singapore Science Centre Ecogarden (p. 16). Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.
(Call no.: RSING 581.95957 KWO)

Rao, A. N., & Wee, Y. C. (1989). Singapore trees (p.135). Singapore: Singapore Institute of Biology. 
(Call no.: SING 582.16095957 RAO)

Tee, S. P., & Wee, M. L. (Eds.). (2001). Trees of our garden city: a guide to the common trees of Singapore. (pp. 76-77). Singapore: National Parks Board. (Call no.: SING 582.16095957 TRE)

Warren, W. (1996). Tropical flowers of Malaysia and Singapore (p. 23). Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.
(Call no.: SING 581.95957 WAR)

Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: a selection for urban planting (pp. 34-35). Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing.
(Call no.: SING 582.16095957 WEE)

Wee, Y. C. (1989). A guide to the wayside trees of Singapore (pp. 24-25). Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.
(Call no.: SING 582.16095957 WEE) 

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Royal poinciana--Singapore

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