garden life
Treat for the eyes
Kiran Narain

Cassia fistula or Amaltas in full bloom
Cassia fistula or Amaltas in full bloom

Ornamental cassias (family leguminasae) are both deciduous and evergreen flowering trees and shrubs spread all over the world. Out of some 400 species, a few are commonly grown as ornamental trees in North Indian plains. Having a long blooming period, the cassias can also boast of foliage. Here are some of the popular species of cassia, which are easy to grow.

Cassia fistula (Amaltas): A popular tree of great beauty fit for gardens and avenue, cassia fistula has clusters of drooping sprays 30-60 cm long with yellow flowers 4-6 cm across. Most of the trees are still leafless in late April or May when they are clothed in splendid fragrant golden sprays inviting bees and insects, while a few trees may also have lovely tender green leaves tinged with a rich copper colour.

A very useful medium-sized deciduous tree, growing well at any height up to 4000 feet above sea level, it dominates the show when in bloom. One of the prettiest roadside avenues of Amaltas is on the way from Sector 17 to Sector 16 at Chandigarh. In Delhi, a row of these trees leads to Qutub hotel while individual trees, at various places, including the Ridge, are a treat to the eye when the shimmering sunlight falls on them in the morning.

The middle-sized tree has smooth bark of pale greenish colour and flowers are followed by pipe like pods hanging from the tree. Immersed in dark coloured sweetish pulp are the seeds which are relished by monkeys, jackals, bears and pigs thus helping in the seed dispersal. The pulp is used to spice Indian tobacco while timber is used for agricultural implements and tool handles.

Cassia fistula is raised from seeds sown in beds in March-April. Germination takes place early in the rains. The rich yellow pendulous clusters of beautiful Amaltas certainly liven up a dull and parched summer afternoon.

Cassia grandis or Pink Shower is an elegant fast-growing tree which bears drooping bunches of pink flowers from the axil of the fallen leaves during the months of March-April in North Indian plains. It is the earliest of cassias to bloom. Pretty foliage immediately follows the flowers. It is a small tree with deep green foliage and has a spreading nature, making it a handsome choice for parks, gardens and avenues. It is also commonly known as horse cassia.

Cassia javanica is commonly known as Java ki Rani as some consider it to be the most beautiful cassia. It is a medium-sized tree with straight trunk, covered with smooth dark brown bark, supporting a spreading crown of numerous horizontal as well as drooping branches full of feathery leaves. Clusters of rose pink flowers, together with the leaves, start coming up on this deciduous tree during April-May. The buds are grouped in whorls at the end of short, lateral branches. The beautiful pink flowers attain their prime by mid to end May and by the middle of June, the ground beneath the trees gets strewn with lovely petals falling after the excellent display of beauty.

A tree of quick growth, cassia javanica loves moisture but since the wood is weak it should be planted away from pavements and direct wind path. Seeds sown at the beginning of monsoon propagate it. The leaf fall begins in December.

Other cassias, which are beautiful, can be grown for their beauty if saplings true to their name can be obtained, namely c. marginata, c. multijuga, c. nodosa, c. renigera or Burmese pink cassia. C. marinata with its terracotta red coloured flowers is highly recommended.