I came out of my house one evening and the green grass was sparkled over with hundreds of what-looked-like-snowflakes. And as I lifted my head to look up, I saw thousands of transparent winged seeds snowing down from the trees all around. It was a magical sight.
My housing complex has a large number of African Tulip Trees, and these were the sources of the ‘snow’. This native of Africa’s tropical forests (Spathodea campanulata) is an invasive species in some parts of the world, but fortunately does not seem to be a problem in India.
For a few months, these trees were in bloom, clusters of bright orange flowers, each individual flower the shape of a tulip. The trees used to be a riot of colour and sound, with the dozens of birds which came to sip the nectar from the flowers. Then these flowers turned to seeds—when mature, these are brown and woody. And now the seedpods are bursting, releasing the 500 or so seeds that each pod has. Each seed is tiny and covered in a transparent polythene-like covering, which floats down lazily to the ground. And at this stage too, there are birds that visit the tree-yesterday I saw a parakeet feasting on the seeds and releasing the empty cases to float to the ground.
It was like my textbook coming alive. ‘Seed Dispersal Mechanisms’ is what I think the lesson was called. And it described dispersal by wind, by water, by animals and birds, by ballistic action, etc.
I could only marvel at the tree for producing and sending down thousands of seeds every season. Sadly, for most to be swept away by the gardeners. Presumably, the very large number of seeds the tree has evolved to produce is to make up for the very small probability of any of them actually growing into an adult tree.
I can only hope a few of the ones I have seen this season manage to escape and are able to fly a decent distance away from the attention of gardeners and home owners, and land on un-managed land and fulfil their function!
PS: While urging our readers to take all precautions and stay safe, MM will try extra-hard to focus on everything other than Corona during these difficult times. Life is beautiful!