HK trees 04: Golden Shower

  • Specie: Golden Shower
  • Scientific name: cassia fistula
  • Genus: Cassia
  • Family: FABACEAE
    • sub-family: Caesalpinioideae
  • Chinese name: 臘腸樹, 豬腸豆
  • Location: HKU Pokfulam Road entrance; Governor House main entrance; Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park, Caine Lane Garden near Seymour Road; Kowloon Park pond;

I first came across the Golden Shower as I was walking along Caine Road when I first started to enjoy walking and began exploring the neighbourhood that is Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island. At the time, I had just started to learn about trees, but beyond the ubiquitous Chinese Banyan (ficus microcarpa) and Big-leaved Fig (ficus virens) that are on every block, I had not managed to get to know many others. I did however realise that many trees in Hong Kong are labelled, so all it took was a closer look.

That’s what prompted me to enter the Caine Lane Garden on the corner of Caine Road and Seymour Road. As I walked by, I spotted a small white plague hanging on what was then a relatively non-descript, albeit, thin and willowy tree. After braving the bristling crown of toddlers on their after-school playtime and crossing into the rough, I managed to read the label that designated the individual as a Golden Shower.

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I had no idea why a tree would be called Golden Shower, nor remember the term after I got home. It wasn’t until months later, when I walked past again and saw the delicate groups of little yellow flowers that I understood the origin of its name.

The Golden Show is named for its clusters of yellow bead-like flowers that hang gracefully down from its long and elegant branches, like a shower of yellow jewels from above.

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Since that time, I have come across a handful of Golden Showers in Hong Kong, all inside gardens and parks. There are two magnificent Golden Showers – by far the largest in the city that I have seen – standing guard on either side of the main entrance of Government House on Upper Albert Road. There are also two individuals growing on the shore of the bird pond inside Kowloon Park, several inside Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park and an juvenile member on the side of the parking lot of the University of Hong Kong just above Pok Fulum road.

There is another that grows also inside HKU, but further along Pok Fulum road, just after the MTR Station. Its quite a mature specimen, tall and with a full crown. When I walked by this year, the blooms were still quite scarce, but easily spotted and plainly identifiable.

While its bright flowers are flamboyant, the Golden Shower displays a more complex personality. On one hand, the specie appears quite elegant and delicate with its long flowing branches. But there is also a wistful quality to the specie, which has rough patchy bark and grows wildly in all directions from a relatively thin central trunk. The specie is also semi-deciduous, and loses its leaves during the winter months, which adds a sense of destitute and abandonment at certain times of the year.

The leaves themselves are compounded opposite pinnated – basically two rows of individual leaves growing along a thin branch mirroring each other. Each individual leaf is about the size of a gyoza (Japanese dumpling).

I thoroughly enjoy the Golden Shower trees in Hong Kong, especially during the summer when the trees are in bloom, but little did I know how significant the specie is for our neighbours in Southeast Asia, where the trees originate.

For starters, the Golden Shower is the official flower of the Indian state of Kerala, and the national flower of Thailand, where its colour symbolises Thai royalty. It’s no wonder I spotted rows of them growing in a lot next to the airport hotel adjacent Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport when I had a stopover recently – although I didn’t know the significance at the time.

The specie is clearly adaptable. Not only do they appear to thrive in Hong Kong, but I’ve come across at least one growing in a garden in East Vancouver – in full bloom in late May.

More formally, the specie is part of the Cassia genus under the Fabaceae family, which can also be referred to as the “legume,” “pea,” and “bean” family. That is quite evident in the Golden Shower’s fruits, which can be as long as 60 centimetres and thick like an adult index finger, very much like a giant french bean. (photos in due time)

As I discovered, the similarities of the bean-like fruit make the specie a direct relative to other common trees in Hong Kong, such as the Flame Tree, the different Bauhinia varieties as well as others like the Sunshine Tree, in a “sub-family” under Fabaceae called caesalpinioideae (from Wikipedia) or caesalpiniaceae (according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department).

I can’t really go into the intricacies of the lexicon of trees – because I really don’t know anything about it, but I do like the common English name for the sub-family, which is peacock flower – a name that is totally apt for describing the showy flowers of the Golden Shower, not to mention its more ostentatious relative, the Flame Tree (delonix regia).

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Categories:Golden Shower, parks and gardens, Spring blooms, Street trees, urbantrees, Urbantrees of Hong KongTags: , , , , , , ,

urbantreelover

humble student of the glory of trees

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