If you have never traveled to the Caribbean during the summer months, you likely have never witnessed one of my favorite flora of the region outside of a photograph. If you have visited St. John between June and August, you may have spotted these beautiful, bright orange, red or yellow flowered trees dotting the hillside and wondered what they are.
Known scientifically as the Delonix tree, these tangled branches topped with vibrant buds are also known as Flamboyant Trees. In late May and early June, these trees start popping splashes of color all over the generally dull colored hillsides. It is this time of year that our dry season winds down, so the brightly colored flowers are a sign of relief and jubilation on the dry, brownish landscape.
The flowers and twisted trunks of these shrubs are not their only unique characteristics. The seed pods, brown and sword shaped, dot the grounds of the island in abundance and make a distinctive sound similar to a maraca when shaken. They are a favorite toy of children and are used in crafts and jewelry making.
To me and many others living on St. John, this tree is a symbol of resilience and hope. They have always been my favorite plant here, especially after hearing their name. Flamboyant. Prior to Hurricane Irma in 2017, the trees were in bloom into late August. I was told once, by an elder in the community that when the trees remain in bloom late into the year, it is a bad sign for a strong hurricane season. I can find no evidence of that claim outside of local lore and the coconut telegraph, but in 2017 it proved to be true.
During Irma and Maria the Flamboyant Trees, along with most of the plants on island, took a beating. I remember, in October 2017, checking in on the one at Caneel Bay in front of ZoZo’s that I had walked under in marvel almost daily. I found it twisted, mangled, no leaves, no flowers. Seemingly gone forever.
The next summer came and went and it seemed that any Flamboyant trees attempting to flower were losing a race with the iguanas. Our local lizards LOVE the brightly colored flowers of these trees. It was almost like the tree would pop one beautiful blossom out from the bottom of its strength, only to have an iguana come eat that one flower it had tried so hard to create.
The trees were seemingly trying to muster the strength to do their thing in recovery. But, like many of the residents of St. John in that year following Irma, they were tired. They were making it through, but not thriving.
Then comes May of 2019…Recovery efforts were moving forward. Blue tarps were turning into wind resistant roofs, roads were being (kind of) repaired, people were smiling a little bigger, most businesses had reopened and the Flamboyant Trees were starting to bust out in full bloom. This summer is no different. They are absolutely gorgeous right now!
During that summer of 2019, I can’t tell you how many times I stopped to take photos of those trees in bloom. I mean, I appreciated them before, but I felt, like many other things, I had taken them for granted prior to the 2017 hurricanes.
I guess the moral of this story is that hard times…hurricanes, pandemics, unrest….they happen. We get crushed. We get disappointed. We lose things….freedoms, health, loved ones, material things. In a time right now where human contact is scary, even with those you love, remember the hugs and the love we all shared and know that there will be a next time for all of that. In the meantime, let’s all stop to appreciate what we CAN enjoy, like the blooming Flamboyant Trees for example.
It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. But like the Flamboyant Trees, we, as human beings, are resilient. We have the capabilities of being strong and changing our perspectives to adapt to a situation. We are not limited, but limitless.