Lagerstroemia speciosa: Pride of India

Family: Lythraceae
Common name: Pride of India, Giant crepe-myrtle, Queen’s crepe-myrtle

The name Pride of India suits the tree very well, since it is one of the most beautiful flowering trees in India. They are seen in parks, landscaped areas, roadsides, parking lots and in gardens, with bright pink or lavender flowers.

In flowering season, the tree produces a profusion of flowers in tall panicles pointing to the sky. Afterwards the tree is filled with small bell-like seeds that also look beautiful. Pride of India is the state tree of Maharashtra.

The trees can grow to a height of 20 meters with a smooth brown trunk, showing patches of lighter color where the skin has flaked off. They have large, leathery, lance-shaped leaves with a pointy tip and distinct venation.

The tree is partially deciduous, losing its leaves in cold wintry weather. Pride of India flowers are very beautiful with green and red sepals; six to seven white, pink or lavender petals, that are soft and feathery like paper tissue. They are connected to the center of the flower with a very thin strip. Over 150 stamens are prominently seen at the center. The flowers mainly bloom only once in summer, but could have few flowers during other times as well.

The flowers then produce beautiful rounded fruits, which are about 2 cms in diameter, with a tiny spike at its tip. These fruits are greenish-olive in color, turning brown as they mature. The fruit capsules capsules split open like flowers, with 5-6 distinct segments, each segment containing neatly packed seeds inside. The seeds have small wings that help in wind dispersal, spreading the tree to new areas.

Though it is mainly grown as an ornamental tree, the leaves can be used to brew herbal tea. Young leaves are eaten raw or cooked in some parts of the world. Pride of India trees have a wide-spread root system, and hence can be planted in areas prone to soil erosion.

The timber is quite strong and water-resistant; used to build canoes, boats, bridges, crates and carts. The tree also finds uses in Ayurvedic medicine, in treatment of hypertension, diabetes, liver diseases and urinary tract infections.

Propagation is through seeds.

Image credits: Gopakumar Neelakantan

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