Samanea saman: Rain tree

Family: Fabaceae

Common name: Rain tree, Saman, Monkeypod, Five o’clock tree, Cow tamarind, East Indian walnut, Inga saman, Samaan tree, French tamarind, False powder puff, Monkey-pod tree, Pukul Lima, Hujan-Hujan, Soar, Suar, Suwar

One of the most beautiful shade trees, Rain trees can spread over large areas with heavily branched stems bearing beautiful pink flowers. The tree usually grow to a height of 20-30 meters and is capable of growing to 60 meters.

The trunk is deep brown, heavily fissured, and cracked into small pieces, which can actually be broken off from the trunk. They are deciduous trees, shedding almost all their leaves just before winter, even in India with its tropical climate.

After the tree grows back all the leaves, it starts produces thousands of small flowers, with bunches of stamens which are pink on the upper half and white on the lower half, that look like tiny powder puffs. These flowers are borne on heads that hold 20-25 small bunches of flowers. And there are thousands of flowerheads all over the tree making them quite a sight to behold!

Rain tree leaves are bipinnate, having 6-8 pairs of leaflets which are almost squarish, oval-shaped, like asymmetrical chicklets. Leaves fold in during rains and in the evening, giving adequate water and sunlight to the plants growing below.

The tree also produces long pod-like fruits that contain black seeds embedded inside a sweet-smelling, sticky, edible, pulp which is preferred by monkeys, squirrels, birds, and even cattle.

Rain trees are very busy year-round, shedding leaves, then growing them back, flowering, then shedding the flowers, fruiting, shedding the fruits, and then the cycle starts all over again. While this would not be a problem in forests or in the wild, it can create littering problems in landscaped areas or gardens.

They have a wide, umbrella-shaped dome making them ideal shade or ornamental trees for parks, gardens, avenues and botanical gardens. The only drawback is that large branches might break and fall during heavy winds and rains, making it dangerous in cities and crowded places.

The fruits, young leaves and flowers are edible and are eaten as famine food. The fruitpods are covered with a thick, black covering which is very thick along the edges, making them safe to eat even if they are picked off the ground. Fruit pulp can be used to make a syrupy fruit drink.

Rain trees have some medicinal properties, in treatment of diarrhoea, stomach ailments, tuberculosis, eczema, sore throat and dermatitis. The tree also yields a latex which can be used as a poor subtitute for gum.

Wood from the tree is durable and reasonably strong, the cross-grain pattern makes them ideal for sculptures and wood carvings. They are also used in small-scale construction, for crafts, boxes, veneers etc.

Belonging to the Fabaceae family, their roots have nitrogen-fixing bacteriae that can take atmospheric nitrogen and convert them into a form that can be absorbed by plants, making these trees valuable to plants around them.

Propagation is through seeds, stem or root cuttings.