Color in the Sky

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cotton candy pink, the floss-silk tree
is emblematic of the season.

Two flowering trees are to October/November as poinsettias are to the Christmas holidays. They are the pink-flowering Ceiba speciosa (formerly Chorisia speciosa), floss silk tree, and the orange-flowering Colvillea racemosa, Colville’s glory. On days when the sky is brilliantly blue, the flowers of these trees can make your heart soar. The Garden’s showiest Ceiba speciosa, just to the north of the allee, has a broad, rounded canopy that is bare of leaves so the mass of pink flowers with white throats are perfectly displayed. The tree comes from Brazil and Argentina. Its trunk is somewhat bottle-shaped and covered with prickles or warty spines. Many years ago, I bought a floss-silk at the Menninger Tree Conference. It grew so rapidly in the back yard that it could be seen from the street within a few years. Caution: few arborists willingly trim this one if they do not have a bucket truck.


Colville’s glory, from Madagascar, retains its long, bipinnate leaves while holding grape-like clusters or

Colvile's glory is named for Sir Charles
Colville, once a governor of Mauritius.

racemes of orange to scarlet flowers that burst open with golden stamens. The late Ed Menninger, who imported to his garden in Stuart flowering trees from around the globe, wrote about the Colvillea in his book Flowering Trees of the World,  “Often a dozen bunches of flowers [are found on] one limb. Dr. David Fairchild once painted a mental picture of them when he said they made him think of a salmon Wisteria, if there were such a thing.” Unlike the flowers of the floss silk tree, the flowers of Colville’s glory cannot be seen very well from below, as they are carried above the foliage. Menninger concluded, “Colville’s Glory is not good for anything but to look at.” Yet, in its native habitat, one species of parrot eats the flowers and lemurs feed on the exudate. Menninger said the tree rarely sets seed, “though the author’s own tree was a seedling from Dr. Fairchild’s tree in the Kampong at Coconut Grove, grown by the Old Master himself and given to him in the days of long ago.”

Look for Colvillea racemosa in the arboretum in plot 35.