Flam­ing crown

Yel­low flame trees are mag­nif­i­cent beau­ties,

New Straits Times - - Pulse - writes Elaine Yim myn­ice­gar­den­blog@gmail.com

MANY years ago, the de­vel­oper of my hous­ing es­tate planted quite a number of yel­low flame trees in my neigh­bour­hood. I used to dis­like th­ese trees as they looked weak and spindly be­cause of their un­ruly branches. I was wor­ried that strong winds might break the branches or up­root the trees and cause dam­age to life and prop­erty.

Now that the trees are ma­ture and have started flow­er­ing reg­u­larly, I have be­gun to ap­pre­ci­ate their mag­nif­i­cent beauty. When be­fore I could only see the lit­ter of dead flow­ers scat­tered on the ground, now when I look up, I can see the true beauty of the golden yel­low flow­ers that con­gre­gate at the tree tops like a beau­ti­fully crafted royal crown.

In my area, they seem to flower ev­ery year in March or April co­in­cid­ing with Qing­ming (tomb sweep­ing) sea­son. Birds love to build nests high up on their sturdy branches; epi­phytic ferns and or­chids are perched there too. The trees also pro­vide some shade for parked cars.


Sci­en­tific name: Pel­topho­rum


Synonym: Pel­topho­rum fer­rug­ineum Fam­ily: Fabaceae / Legu­mi­nosae (bean


Com­mon names: Yel­low Flame, Yel­low Flam­boy­ant, Yel­low Poin­ciana, Copper Pod, Rusty Shield.

It is known as Je­mer­lang Laut or Batai Laut in Malaysia, Soga Jam­bal in In­done­sia and Rad­hachura in In­dia. Its Chi­nese name is Dun Zhun Mu, mean­ing shield wood.

Fabaceae is a fam­ily of vines, shrubs, herbs, trees and sev­eral aquatic plants. Many of them are flow­er­ing plants, eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able by their bean pods and com­pound leaves. This fam­ily is also known

as the bean, pea or legume fam­ily.

Some com­mer­cially im­por­tant species in­clude peanut (Arachis hy­pogaea), soy­bean (Glycine max), al­fafa (Med­icago sativa), green peas (Pisum sativum), petai (Parkia speciosa).

The genus name Pel­topho­rum is de­rived from the Greek word mean­ing “shield-bear­ing”, re­fer­ring to the shape of the flower stigma. This genus has about 15 species of plants.

The spe­cific ep­i­thet pte­ro­carpum is a Latin word for winged fruit.


Pel­topho­rum pte­ro­carpum is na­tive to South­east Asia, Sri Lanka and north­ern Aus­tralia where it is com­monly found near rocky coasts and sandy seashores. It is a com­mon road­side tree in Malaysia and South­east Asia. Else­where, it is grown as an or­na­men­tal tree.

Pel­topho­rum pte­ro­carpum is a medi­um­sized tree grow­ing to a height of 15-20m. This de­cid­u­ous tree will shed all its leaves dur­ing a dry spell. Its crown is wide and spreads like a huge um­brella. A ma­tured tree trunk can ex­ceed 5m wide. The bark is rough and grey in colour.

Fo­liage is dark green. The pin­nately com­pound leaves have many side-stalks bear­ing many pairs of ob­long leaflets. They look like those of the mi­mosa plant.

The flow­ers are bright yel­low in colour with thin and wrin­kled flower petals that look like crin­kled tis­sue pa­per. They are borne on long flower stalks on ter­mi­nal, pagoda-shaped in­flo­res­cences. Th­ese nec­tar and pollen-rich flow­ers are mildly fra­grant and they at­tract bees and but­ter­flies. Flow­er­ing is in­tense with the whole tree topped with masses of bright yel­low flow­ers. Flow­er­ing sea­son can last sev­eral weeks.

The fruit is a thin, flat, winged pod mea­sur­ing about 5cm x 2cm which change to an at­trac­tive dark pur­plish red colour when ripe. Each fruit pod split open to re­lease four or five seeds. The fruit pods re­main hang­ing on the tree for a few

months be­fore they drop off to the ground.

The wood can be used as tim­ber for fur­ni­ture, fo­liage as cat­tle feed and the bark is used to make “soga”, a brown-coloured dye used in tra­di­tional batik in­dus­try.



2. SUN­LIGHT. Full sun

3. MEDIUM. All kinds of soil. It can tol­er­ate poor soil as its roots con­tain ni­tro­gen-fix­ing bac­te­ria.

4. WATER. Reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing. It is very drought-tol­er­ant

5. FERTILISE. Not needed as it can nat­u­rally ob­tain nu­tri­ents from the ground.

6. MAIN­TE­NANCE. Prune to shape the plant. Re­move un­ruly branches which may pose a safety haz­ard to passersby. Dried twigs, branches, fruit pods, spent leaves and flow­ers can lead to a sig­nif­i­cant amount of lit­ter.



Lots of flow­ers are pro­duced when­ever it blooms.

A close-up of the bark.

The yel­low flame tree is a com­mon road­side tree in Malaysia.

The flower petals look like crin­kled tis­sue pa­per.

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