06 Feb 2012

Flaming Immortelles

Tropical Nature News


At this time of the year great swaths of our forests are turning brilliant vermillion! This is because the Immortelle trees (Erythrina poeppigiana) are flowering. These are large trees; they grow to a height of about 80 feet (25 metres), and begin to flower at the end of the rainy season, late December, each year.

The Immortelle flower is brilliant orange, and the whole crown of the tree is covered with these outstanding flowers. The view of our northern range hill slopes at this time of year is one of large bands of

orange spread across the deep green foliage. The Immortelle was also known to early cocoa planters as “madre de cacao”, or Mother of the Cocoa, because Trinidad and Tobago’s very fine cocoa thrives especially in the shade of the Immortelle trees. The Immortelle is also a “nitrogen fixing” tree, and is important to the biodiversity of the forest. The tree is obviously a good host to epiphytes, which grow liberally on its upper branches, and to the Crested Oropendolas, which builds their long hanging nests in

the canopy.

Known mostly to the layman for its beauty when flowering, the Immortelle is also called “the Flame Tree”, for obvious reasons.

But as lovely as is the spectacle of the flaming immortelles in the hills around the Centre, there is a slight downside to their presence: many of our humming birds, especially the White-Necked Jacobin, leave the precincts of our verandah to fly up into the vermillion canopies to enjoy the nectar of those flowers!

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