Posted by: cochinblogger | February 27, 2020

Queen’s Pride of India: Queen’s Crepe Myrtle

Common names: Queen's Pride of India, Pride of India, Queen's Flower Tree, Queen's Flower, Queen's Crepe Myrtle, Manimarathu (Malayalam), Kadali/Pumarathu (Tamil), Jarul (Bengali/Hindi/Marathi)

Scientific name: Lagerstroemia speciosa

Photo location: The above photo is from a splendid specimen on Park Avenue at the southern end of Rajendra Maidan, on the western side of the Gandhi statue. It is the tree hugging the lamppost.

Description: In urban settings, Manimarathu is a common avenue tree. It is a sturdy medium-sized tree that can achieve a height of over 50 feet in well-watered areas. In full bloom, it is a striking sight, covered with pink to purple (white is also seen) flowers that thrust through the foliage towards the sky. The petals have a crinkled texture, like crepe paper, and hence the name queen's crepe myrtle. The above photo is a medley of colors: the light green ribbed calyxes that will split to expose the buds, the dark green leaves, the yellow anthers, the bright red pistil capped by the purple stigma, the light pink sepals, and, of course, the bright pink petals. Older flowers (they last for two to three days) have a bleached appearance; the flower in the photo has likely just bloomed, judging from the bright colors.

Utility: The wood is valuable timber. It is resistant to water and so is used for making boats and canoes, as also furniture, railway sleepers, buildings, etc. Further, the tree has several medicinal uses.

In the Philippines, the tree is called Banaba, and Banaba tea (prepared from a leaf extract) is a traditional remedy for diabetes (some modern studies have confirmed anti-diabetic activity). In the Andamans, the fruit is used to treat mouth ulcers. The roots are an astringent, and the seeds are narcotic. The bark is used to treat diarrhea.

Uniqueness: It is one of the very few trees with showy flowers that also provides valuable timber. Besides, almost every part of the tree has medicinal uses.

Honours: The flower of Jarul is the state flower of Maharashtra. In 1993, the Indian Department of Posts issued a stamp featuring the tree.

Tailpiece: A charming little poem has been written about the tree (the poem is actually about a smaller related species, L. indica, but we will allow ourselves a little poetic license). Crepe myrtles, you see, are summer bloomers, and most summer tree flower colors are blazing oranges, reds, and yellows. By contrast, crepe myrtles with their cool pastel shades soothe the eye.

And now let the poet have the last word.

CREPE MYRTLES
by Cathy Smith Bowers

When the heaviness of dog days
has had its way
with us, they bloom
to stay the doom

of summer's end. Such Popsicles,
these crepe myrtles,
to cool the day's
parched tongue! And where's

the truck that brought them? The little
bell? Clang goes the
ghostly driver
and then is gone.

Sources:

1. The Book of Indian Trees by K.C. Sahni (Oxford)
2. Discover Avenue Trees by S. Karthikeyan (Ecoedu)
3. Remarkable Trees on the NII (National Immunological Institute) Campus by S. Natesh (Internet). I'm indebted to this source for pointing out and interpreting the poem.
4. Sharmin, T., Rahman, M.S. & Mohammadi, H. Investigation of biological activities of the flowers of Lagerstroemia speciosa, the Jarul flower of Bangladesh. BMC Complement Altern Med 18, 231 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-018-2286-6

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