The July Tree: A royal flowering fit for Emancipation Day 2012

POSTED: 06/27/12 12:33 PM

The Flamboyant or Poinciana is also called the July Tree in St. Martin. (HNP photo)

St. Maarten – From Great Bay to Grand Case, from Lowlands to Lamajo, the Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant appears strikingly lush for its 2012 Caribbean season (May-September). Probably due to favorable rainfall earlier this year, the mostly orange-red flowers and bright green foliage appear like jubilant fat bells weighing down the Flamboyant branches, a fitting homage from nature for the first modern official observation of July 1 as Emancipation Day in St. Maarten.
The flamboyant is popularly considered as the “National Tree” on both parts of the island of St. Martin. It is historically and culturally linked to folktales, toys, the Ponum dance, Emancipation—when St. Martiners picked and joyfully waved the flowering leaves in the air—and other aspects of the festive culture. On the “Friendly Island” the Poinciana is also known as the “July Tree,” for the month when its flowers bloom at their colorful peak.
“The July Tree is one of the symbols, like the Brown Pelican, The Great Salt Pond, Simpson Bay Lagoon, Marigot Market gatherings, the Frontier Monument, St. Martin Day, Guavaberry, and our multilingual aptitude and resourcefulness among others, that historically and culturally stands for the unity and identity of the St. Martin people, the people of the whole island—whether officially acknowledged as such or not,” author Lasana Sekou said.
“In the book National Symbols of St. Martin (pages 40-47), the notion of the Flamboyant as the National Tree, or more accurately at this stage of the territorial status as the nation’s tree, is linked directly to the actions of St. Martiners that claimed their Emancipation island-wide in 1848, from French and Dutch enslavement,” Sekou added.
He further stated, “We know that the Ponum was danced under and around the Flamboyant tree to celebrate freedom as our people sang the ‘Brim’ song. In fact, July 1, 2012, marks the symbolic 164th anniversary of Emancipation for the entire island.”

As one of the most beautiful trees in the world, the flamboyant has its own history of course. Wilfredo Lam, Simeon Michel, Roland Richardson, and Luis Cajiga are some of the great Caribbean artists influenced by the flamboyant or that have immortalized it in their paintings.
The Poinciana is cultivated widely as an ornamental and full shade tree in tropical and subtropical regions. It has a rare yellow flower variety in addition to the highly prized orange, vivid red and vermilion color varieties. It is also a tough tree that is drought and salt tolerant.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean and Central America the tree is known as the “Flame of the Forest” or“Llama del Bosque.” In parts of India it is called Gulmohar and “crown of the Lord Krishna.” In China and Vietnam the Flamboyant or “Phoenix’s Tail” competes as the official “city tree” for more than one city. But in its native Madagascar, the Poinciana is not the national tree at all (that distinction goes to another myth-laden African wonder from the plant kingdom, the baobob tree).
To find out how the “flame tree” got the name Poinciana, let’s head back to the Caribbean.
“This species was previously placed in the genus Poinciana, named for Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy, the 17th century governor of Saint Christophe (Saint Kitts), who is credited with introducing the plant to the Americas.” (Wikipedia.com)

In the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis, parts of which can be seen on a clear day from the Cole Bay hill road in St. Martin, the Poinciana is at times called the “Shack Shack Tree” and its flower is, officially, the National Flower. The tree now belongs to the genus Delonix.
Back in St. Martin, where building developments are causing unmitigated stress on land, wetlands, and vegetation, and on animal and marine life, there has been a visible and admirable growth in the appearance of royal flamboyant trees over the last 15 years, in private yards and along public roads. Here’s another reason to have a flamboyant on one’s property: As a legume tree, it packs a wallop of “nitrogen-fixating and soil-improving properties.” (wikipedia.com).

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