Butea monosperma: Flame of the forest

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Flame of the forest, Palash, Bastard teak, Butea gum, Flame of forest, Forest flame, Dhak, Parrot tree, Battle of Plassey tree, Bengal kino, Palas tree, Sacred tree

Flame of the forest tree, belonging to the pea and beans family of Fabaceae sets the forest on fire when it blooms with bright orange-red flowers. They are medium-sized trees that grow to a height of 12-15 meters.

They are deciduous trees shed their leaves during winter looking bare and ugly, but during early spring, they are transformed into a beautiful, mesmerizing sight. These trees branch well with twisted or crooked branches, forming a large crown providing shelter for birds, and shade for animals.

Flame of the forest leaves are pinnate, with three distinct leaflets that are roughly oval in shape, about 15-25 cm long. The tree blooms in spring with bright orange-red flowers that are clustered together in bunches. The flowers have a unique shape with upturned flowers that look like tongues of fire, which is how the tree got its name.

Flower buds are deep black in color and look like little seeds themselves. Flame of the forest flowers are 6-8 cm long with 5 petals, two of them standard, two of them like wings, and one curved like a beak. Fruit pods are 18-28 cm long and oblong in shape.

Flame of the forest trees need good sunlight and moderate watering till they are grown and established in the soil. They are good ornamental trees for home gardens blooming well and transforming the garden into a haven for birds during spring.

Wood of the tree is not hard and durable, and so small utensils like spoons and ladles are made using them. The rough bark produces a gum when cut or wounded. This gum called Butea gum or Bengal kino is used in dyeing and tanning. Young leaves are used as fodder, and the wood is used as fuel.

Flame of the flowers have been used to make dyes for clothing, and also for making Holi color called Kesari. The leaves are used as plates for serving or wrapping food. The tree is an important source of timber and is used for furniture, construction, and fuel.

These trees have been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for many years because of their anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant, laxative, astringent, and anti-diabetic properties. Parts of the plant are used to treat diabetes, kidney stones, liver disorders, fever, dysentery, cuts, wounds, skin diseases, respiratory infections, bronchitis, and asthma.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Flame of the forest tree is an important cultural symbol in South Asia. The tree’s bright orange-red flowers are used in religious ceremonies and are associated with the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati.

Propagation is through seeds, air layering, and replaning suckers that grow near the parent tree.