Saturday, December 19, 2009

Colours of Christmas

Golden Shower (above)
Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant tree (below)

First published in Steven's Window. The National newspaper. Friday 18th December 2009.

At this time of the year we celebrate Christmas in different ways to mark the important Christian period of the calendar. It is also a time for Christians everywhere to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. In the Northern Hemisphere it is winter. White snow, green Christmas trees, and colourful lights characterize this period in most places. During the winter period most trees without leaves and flowers appear lifeless. In North America people go crazy decorating trees outside their houses with high voltage lights to lit up the nights. In the Southern Hemisphere it is summer. Rainy days, Christmas trees, summer activities, and colourful lights are switched on everywhere. This is also the time for personal budget blow-outs.

I appreciate the Christmas period in a special way that I would like share with everyone. In our part of the world many plants bloom at this time. Many people appreciate them, but do not know the names of these beautiful plants that give our Christmas special colours to lighten our spirits. We see them around us and admire them for reminding us of the beautiful things in life and for a great country, rich in biodiversity and exotic tropical plants. We are blessed with these wonderful tropical plants with their natural coloured flowers, showering everyday during the Christmas period.

Yet, if someone visiting our country asks about the names of the plants we would without doubt reply that we have no idea about the names of the plants that grow in out city. Once a visiting American writer and inspiration for the film Dead Poets Society, Sam Pickering, remarked that we have some of the wonderful flowering trees in Port Moresby, but no one seems to know the names of these trees. The remark sank like dry wine into the gullet of my soul. Sam is the author of the book Trespassing and was my guest at that time.

At this time of the year a number of plants show-off their flowers with splendid colours. The Golden showers and the Yellow oleanders display their yellow splendour. The Golden showers are also known as the monkey tree or the Indian Laburnum. Casia fistula is the Latin equivalent. The Laburnum is more than just a flowering tree. It is an important medicinal plant in Ayurvedic medicine of India, featured in the ancient religious rituals of cleansing against unbalanced mind and body.

Most of us have the Yellow oleander growing around our houses. The Latin name for this plant is Casabella thevetia, with yellow trumpet shaped flowers and long narrow simple leaves. In a silly way people name this plant as the yellow bell, though the genus name appears to have come from the Spanish casabella, which means small bell, referring to the shape of the flower. The Yellow oleander is a marvel to see.

Chief among the plants with red flowers in full bloom at this time of the year is the Royal Poinciana or the Flamboyant tree, known in Latin as Delonix regia. The Royal Poinciana is often associated with Christmas period, but never carries the name Christmas tree as most people like to refer to it. This tree is an ornamental growing all over the tropical environments. This plant is originally from Madagascar, but introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental, together with the Golden trumpet (Allamanda cathartica), Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis), Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Multicoloured lantana (Lantana camara), and Common Oleander (Nerium Oleander).

The perennials such as the hibiscus, the frangipani, the bougainvillea, the flame-of-the wood (Ixora casei), and the rosewood continue to display their spectacular flowers. The most popular is the frangipani plant, sometimes known as the Mexican plumeria, also known as Plumeria rubra in Latin. The red and yellow Mexican plumeria, bloom in concert with their cousin, the Singapore plumeria or the plumeria obtusa. These frangipanis have soft colours, texture, and nice smooth scent.

Other perennials with spectacular flowers are the Heliconia, also known in Latin as Heliconia psittacorum, the Jasmine, the Morning glory, and the St. Thomas Orchid Tree, also known as Bauhinia monandra in Latin. The red, white, and orange lilies add spectacle to the ground. There are many more plants that bloom at this time of the year in our yards, streets, and suburbs.

Imagine living in the Northern Hemisphere at this time with white snow, cold weather, and leafless trees to stare at and you stare back at them, wishing all the time that you were home to take in the beautiful sights and smells of flowering plants. I have been in this situation before, living through several winters of Midwest America, and know that the tropical flowering and leafy plants make my country a special home.

Many other plants are also in bloom around the country at this time. Whatever we do in the city during the Christmas period, let us pause for a moment to admire the blessings of the Creator. Our country is blessed with natural plants that make our Christmas more colourful than the cheap Christmas trees and lights we rush to buy for our homes every Christmas. We should be thankful to God.

Those of us living in the great city of Port Moresby want to see all our frangipanis, palms, and St. Thomas Orchid Trees remain untouched by careless individuals, drunks, and ignorant people during the Christmas period. Please, for once, leave the beautiful plants planted for our pleasure and peace of mind left alone. There is no peace in running through or onto the plants the Happy Gardener and the NCDC have planted along the roads for our enjoyment. No forgiveness for those who trespass against plants this Christmas.

To all loyal followers of this column I wish you a safe, peaceful, and Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Look after our flowering trees for our people, our children, our visitors, our friends, and non-resident Papua New Guineans to come home this Christmas to enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steven,

    Happy New Year greetings from London. Great post.
    My post for Christmas is on

    I found your blog via Malum Nalu's Twitter followers. Am glad I did. I'll add your link on to my blog so my readers can also have access to your posts. Great writing.