Friday, July 31, 2015

our scarlet letter

Last winter, I was enjoying coffee with my friend Lee, from Whidbey Island, at La Taza Negra.

Well, he was having coffee.  I was most likely drinking tea.  That "c" food thing again.

He asked me if I had ever seen a poinciana tree in the local area.  He had first seen one when he was in the military on Bermuda.

Do you ever hear words that you know you have stored in your head, but you just cannot access them?  That is what happened to me when Lee mentioned "poinciana."

My file search system went into overdrive.  Up came "poinsettia" and "needlepoint."  Neither was helpful.  But I knew there was some memory connection between "poinsettia" and "poinciana."

Applying my best trial technique, I stalled.  "I know the name.  What does it look like?"  (Almost every sentence with that construction contains a lie.  Politicians are masters of the form.)

Lee's answer provided a memory jackpot.  "It has beautiful red flowers."

I immediately knew the tree.  In fact, I had written previous essays about the tree (better than a box of keeblers -- where I compared the tree to Tolkien's Lothlórien -- and a tree as lovely as a poem -- which features a photograph of the tree Lee was searching for, a tree that stood at the gate of the place he rents).

The tree, as many of you already know, is popularly called a Flamboyant tree (or Flamboyan in Spanish).  Its fancier name is Royal Poinciana.*  That is why the name sounded familiar to me.

It is one of my favorite trees in Mexico.  I knew about it before I headed south because former blogger Isla Gringo often wrote about the tree, its exquisite flowers, and the sabre-like seed pods that are a favorite of hungry squirrels.

In this part of Mexico, they put on quite a show in the late spring and early summer.  We have plenty of local trees that produce tropical-colored flowers.  The bright yellow canopy of the primavera is probably the most obvious.

But there are not many trees that have the distinctive red of the Flamboyant.  In May, you can drive from Barra de Navidad to Manzanillo and repeatedly see slashes of scarlet in the jungle canopy.

Those wild trees are the exception.  Usually, the Flamboyant appears in gardens and yards because it is a non-native specimen tree.  And by "non-native," I mean it is not even from another area in the Americas.

Its home is Madagascar.  Ironically, even though the tree is grown throughout the tropical world, it is quite rare in the wilds of its native island.

Lee is usually here for the winter months -- when the Flamboyants are not flamboyant.  The only way to definitively identify them during the winter is by those seed pods.

Or, Lee can always ask a friend to track down the elusive prey.  And I did.

* -- For you classically trained scholars, the tree's scientific name is Delonix regia.

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