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Bahamas in bloom

Spectacular flowering trees of The Bahamas

Depending on the season, the islands of The Bahamas come alive with vibrant reds, bright yellows, oranges and eye-catching purples thanks to a profusion of native flowering trees. Whether it’s the fiery hue of poincianas or the sunny yellow elder, the country’s trees provide a dazzling backdrop to holiday memories and, with a bloom for every season, visitors can be assured of a colourful welcome year-round.

Royal poinciana
In Vietnam, the royal poinciana tree’s name is translated into English as “phoenix’s tail.” Delonix regia are also known as “flamboyants” or “flame” trees, and it is easy to see why. The scarlet blooms of the national flower of St Kitts and Nevis can be seen all over The Bahamas from May through September. The tree can be 40 ft tall, but it sometimes appears bigger because of its umbrella-like shape.

In the Caribbean, hard poinciana seeds are extracted and used in the musical instrument the maraca to create its signature rattle. The rattle, which can be heard when the trees are shaken by the wind, led many Caribbean locals to rename the seeds “woman’s tongue.” Although seen all over The Bahamas, the tree, which takes its name from M de Poinci, the 17th-century governor of the French Antilles, is originally native to Madagascar, where it is an endangered species.

Dail Pearce, president of the Bahamas­­­ Horticultural Society, says poincianas are one of The Bahamas’ most eye-catching flowers–especially from the air.

“They are one of the things that stand out when you are flying over,” he says. “These trees in bloom are spectacular. It is impossible not to notice them.”
Golden rain
Native to eastern Asia, the imaginatively named golden rain tree is identified by its distinctive clusters of feathery yellow flowers and seed pods, which turn from green to orange to pink as it ripens.

The tree, whose Latin name is Koelreuteria paniculata, is deciduous, meaning that it loses all its leaves for part of the year. In The Bahamas, flowers appear in June and July. Not every horticulturist is a fan of this golden tree. Given its tendency to reseed in warm, dry conditions, it is considered an invasive species in habitats with favourable winter climates.

The rounded black seeds resemble stones and are used in necklaces. In China, the flowers have been used to treat conjunctivitis and other eye conditions.

Poor man’s orchid
Poor man’s orchid has a variety of names due to its distinctive shape. While its scientific name, Bauhinia variegata, is taken from the 16th-century Swiss botanists Jean and Gaspard Bauhin, its other names are more descriptive. They include mountain ebony, butterfly flower and Napoleon hat. The plant has bright pink or white five-petalled flowers that resemble orchids and emit a light scent that attracts hummingbirds.

Poor man’s orchid is native to India and China. It usually flowers from September to November. In The Bahamas it thrives in pine forests found on the country’s northern islands.

The bark of the tree has been used to make dyes, while its sap and seeds can be turned into gum or oils.

Yellow elder
The Bahamas’ national flower, the yellow elder (Tecoma stans) is not actually Bahamian. Native to Central and South America, it was brought to The Bahamas as part of a landscaping effort. Since then the tree has flourished in the warm climate and can be seen in abundance all over the islands. It is especially eye-catching when it blooms between October and December, displaying its trumpet-shaped, vivid yellow flowers. The plant is also known as the “yellow trumpetbush” thanks to the unique shape of the flowers.

The yellow elder was chosen as The Bahamas’ national flower in the 1970s when representatives from New Providence’s most prominent horticultural groups–the Nassau Garden Club, the Carver Garden Club, the International Garden Club and the YWCA Garden Club–selected it through a vote. Their reasoning was that other likely candidates, such as bougainvillea, hibiscus and poinciana, had already been taken as the national flower of other countries.

The US Virgin Islands had no such concern, however. They subsequently followed in The Bahamas’ footsteps by also adopting the yellow elder as their flower. The rose is known as the US national flower.

If you come across a yellow elder, be sure to keep a lookout for hummingbirds. The tiny fliers are attracted to the vibrant flowers, as are honey bees, although the honey they produce from the tree’s nectar is toxic.

African tulip tree
The African tulip tree is characterized by striking red, tulip-like flowers. Spathodea campanulata is also known as ”flame-of-the-forest” or “fountain tree” due to its open cup flowers, which collect rain and dew, often causing the retained water to leak out or, by squeezing the flower buds, to squirt out.

Like the yellow elder, the African tulip tree is popular with many birds, not only for its convenient water-dispensing flowers but also its soft wood, which is used for nest-building.

African tulip trees bloom in early spring, but the flowers last only a few days. A highly useful tree, its seeds are edible, and its bark is used to make drums and fire blacksmith’s bellows in its native Africa, where it was first discovered in Ghana in 1787. In addition, the bark, leaves and flowers are used for a variety of medical purposes including treating burns, dressing wounds, alleviating toothache and cleansing the body of poisons.

Jacaranda
Jacaranda caerulea is one of The Bahamas’ most striking native plants. Although not as widespread in the islands as in Pretoria, South Africa, which is known as Jacaranda City due to its proliferation of the tree, the blue/violet flowers can be seen blooming all over Nassau in late summer and are particularly plentiful in Freeport.

“The jacaranda is the same family as the poinciana, and they bloom at the same time. They are very beautiful. I love the colour,” says Dail Pearce, who explains that there are two species of jacaranda in The Bahamas–the blue jacaranda and a hybrid version of the flower.

The jacaranda is known by other names elsewhere in the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Jamaica it is referred to as the “fern tree” due to its characteristic foliage.

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Feature_BahamasInBloom_WBN11
Bahamas in bloom
Spectacular flowering trees of The Bahamas

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