From the Jordan
by: Ammar Khammash
During all of June, the Jordan valley is full of blooming Flame Trees. The southern parts of the Rift Valley, including Aqaba, start the flowering season couple of weeks earlier. According to the timing of heat, the blooming sweeps northward until it reaches the upper Jordan valley towards the end of June.
Any part of the Jordan Valley would be a suitable destination for Poinciana viewing. In one stretch of the street, south of the Aarda intersection, tens of these trees are planted by the roadside.
If you are not into photography, try capturing this amazing tree in watercolor; make sure you have enough red in your color kit.
If you miss the flowering season, you can visit some of these trees at the end of the summer to collect seeds. They produce some beautiful 60cm.- long horns ,that look like those of ibex, and good for decoration or can be used a musical instrument producing African percussion.
Flame Trees are sold in nurseries in the Jordan Valley, buy some if you can plant them in a tropical environment, but remember that this elegant tree would strictly refuse living in Amman.
In the northern part of the Jordan valley, the village of Waqqas carries the name of one of the Companions of the Prophet, (Amir bin Abi Waqqas). Besides its name, nothing is special about this village, but behind a modest shop, it became a habit for drivers of tomato Toyota pickups to gather under a big tree.
In some days, as much as ten of these small tomato pickups park in the shade. Above them, the tree extends a canopy of feathery leaves that register the slightest breeze. The total composition of the tree with the pickups beneath, appears as if a huge bird is protecting a group of chicks under its fluffy feathers. From the upper canopy of entangled branches, laden with clusters of flowers in the brightest possible red, the occasional petal falls, diving into the shade and landing on red tomato, or on the ground beneath the pickups to further enrich a carpet of shady crimson.
As the pickup drivers sip on sweet tee, glowing spots of sunrays fall from the canopy above like a gentle shower of gold, filtered by the foliage. Do these men know that they are sitting under a tree that is consistently voted among the top most beautiful flowering trees in the world?
Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) has the other common names of Flamboyant tree, flame Tree and Red Flame. It is not a native of Jordan; it comes originally from Madagascar, and thrives in tropical climates.
Flame tree is related to Tamarind and Mimosa, it doesn't like cold climate and in Jordan it stays within the Rift Valley, all the way from lake Tiberius in the north till Aqaba in the south, and staying in lands of altitudes around or below sea level.
Now, in June, this tree explodes in exuberant clusters of flowers in hues from vermilion to scarlet reds. The green of the foliage is of the brightest emerald, and with the flowers, the contrast pushes our visual experience to new extremes. An eternal question remains: why should such a tree present all this beauty?
Evolution might guide us towards an answer, as this tree has to create special attracting signals for insect pollinators. Whatever plants do, visually and odor-wise, must be driven by the way they impact brains in the animal world. From a distance, the bright greens and reds of the Flame Tree are of maximum contrast; each is the reverse of the other, achieving the highest level of attraction through color contrast. In fact if you would look at an image of a Flame Tree on a negative film, you would sea the green as red and the red as green, the result in the reversed image is of the same contrast and colors.
Flying closer, bees will see, with their grid insect-vision, clusters of flowers, waiting for pollination to stare turning into seeds. Each individual flower has five petals, and one of these petals – the upper one- is different. This petal has a specific pattern that acts as further guidance to the exact location that the insect should visit. It is like a kind of a visual handshake, and the insect is hooked into the right position for the pollination to happen. This is a sort of insect-flower mating apparatus, an animal- plant marriage, and a symbiotic relation for the survival of both. In some of these flowers, I've noticed that the upper petal, with patters of white splashes, can be found curled up to conceal its pattern. In this case I could think that when any individual flower is pollinated, it closes its signaling petal to give chance for the inset to visit another flowers. At the same time the other four petals keep open so that the flowering of the tree remains a strong attraction mass of red, with an impact from a distance.
The evolution of this tree has taught it that attraction is the way for survival, while this tree had discovered how to make use of insects, did it knew that it is attractive to us? If it did, then its survival plot has succeeded, for its beauty has made man spread its kind out of Madagascar and around the world. Are we, and the rest of the animal kingdom, part of the conspiracy of plants?
Flame Tree or Royal Poinciana should be recognized as part of Jordan's living heritage. We might even think of creating a “Jordan Valley Poinciana Flowering Festival”, complete with Poinciana guided tours, postcards and t-shirts.
Royal Poinciana is truly royal.
A street in Jordan Valley with a flowering Flame Tree and an Arabian palm.
The Flame Tree- also called Royal Poinciana- is not a native Jordanian tree, it is native to Madagascar.
The tree of Waqqas, under its canopy gathers as many as ten pickups for resting in the shade.
The Poinciana flower with its attractive upper petal, a rewarding flower that exploit sensory biases of insect pollinators.