Fit for a queen

Lagerstromias : A colourful treat
Lagerstromias : A colourful treat

Adorn your pots this summer with conical clusters of lagerstromias, says Kiran Narain

A Swedish merchant Miagnus Lager-Stroem (1691-1759) who received specimens of a flowering tree from the East, sent these to his botanist friend Linnaeus (1696-1759) for identification. The friend, in turn, named the lovely plant Lagerstromias after the former, giving it the specific name reginae or flos-reginae describing its regal beauty and subsequently giving it the common name "Queens Flower Tree."

Belonging to Lythraceae family, it is one of the most striking and ornamental trees of the damp jungles of eastern India and the Western Ghats. It is also widespread in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Lagerstromia flosreginae had been known in India by various local names like Arjun, Jarul, Taman, Kaladi, Varragogn and Mota Bondara.

The tree with a rounded crown and great conical clusters, up to 30 cm long, laden with mauve flowers about five to 7.5 cm across adorns the forests, parks, gardens and roadsides of India in the summers. The individual flowers with six to seven petals are crinkled like crepe paper.

A deciduous tree, large in most areas of eastern India but small in dry places in northern India (seldom more than 5 to 7 metres high), has a usually short trunk and smooth branches with light grey bark which peels off in irregular flakes. Large leathery leaves with prominent lateral nerves and pointed tips turn reddish before falling off gradually in February-March. The new leaves appear soon thereafter and the tree is rarely bare for long.

The beautiful conical clusters laden with lovely flowers adorn the tree in abundance from April to June and an odd bunch or two thereafter may also not be out of place. Generally, the flowers are mauve gradually turning a paler color but a few of the trees may also be seen bearing shades of pink flowers. The seeds are light brown with a stiff brittle wing enclosed within interesting pods which hang on to the trees for long and florists very often use them in dry arrangements. These pods de-hisk in due course of time and shed the seeds which disperse with the help of thin and light wings attached to them.

The tree is grown from seed, transplanted when the seedlings are a year old and can flower within about three to five years after planting. It grows best in rich deep alluvial soil and the side branches can be pruned to keep it shapely.

Lagerstromia has striking good quality timber too. It is ranked next to teak for its timber value in Myanmar where it is used for buildings, carts, boats and furniture.