The name of the tree `Flame of the Forest` itself suggests a lot about the tree. This is such a tree when it is in its fullest beauty, it can change the view of the entire forest in a very graceful way. The scientific name of the tree is Butea Monosperma. Its family is Leguminosae and sub-family is Papilonaceae. Its called in several names in Hindi
language like Chichra tesu, Desuka jhad, Dhak, Palas, Chalcha, and Kankrei. In Urdu
it`s called as Palashpapra. The Bengali
people call it as Palas or Palashi and the Tamils call it as Porasum or Parasu. It`s named like Muriku and Shamata in Malayalam
, Modugu in Telugu, Khakda in Gujarati
and Kela in Sinhalese. In English it has two names. One is Flame of the Forest and the other is Parrot Tree.
The Flame of the Forest is a medium size tree of around 6-12m of height. Usually, the shaft of the tree is curved and twisted with irregular branches that are rough and gray bark. From the month of January to March, the tree stands it all its glory with a lot of orange and vermilion flowers that covers the entire crown. The scentless flowers are massed along the ends of the stalks that are dark and velvety green like the cup-shaped calices. By this deep contrasting colour, the luminosity of the stiff and bright flowers shows off to perfection. There are five petals in each flower that comprise one standard and two smaller wings and also a very curved beak-shaped keel. The name Parrot Tree is given because of this keel only. The back curving petals are also covered with fine and silky hair. It can be seen at certain angles and it can change the deep orange to a silvery salmon-pink as well. The leaves of the tree appear in April and May and are large and trifoliate in size. They are like soft, thick suede when they are new and they also posses a velvety and beautiful pale green colour. But the old leaves are very tough and firm almost like leather.
The tree is very popular amongst the people as it has a numerous use. The brilliant colouring matter obtained from an infusion of the flowers may be used into water-paint or into a dye. A lucid oil is also obtained from the seeds and the gum that exudes from the stems is known as Bengal Kino. This Bengal Kino is very much valuable to the druggists as it has astringent qualities and because of its tannin, it is useful to the leather workers also. Making of rope sandals is one of the most important uses of the young roots of the tree that can make a very strong fibre. Because of their strengths, the leaves of the tree are also used as wrapping papers. The Indian women also love the beli flowers very much as they can use them as their ornaments.
Not only the leaves and flowers, the wood of the Flame of the Forest tree has some uses as well. As the dirty white and soft wood is durable under water, it can be used for well-curbs and water scoops. Good charcoal can also be made from it. The flower has some religious value as well. The Palas is sacred to the moon and to Brahma and it is said that it has sprung from the feather of a falcon impregnated with the "Soma", the beverage of the Gods. It is used in Hindu ceremonies for the blessing of calves to ensure that they become good milkers. When a Brahmin boy becomes a Sadhu, his head is shaved and a Palas leaf is given to him to eat. The trifoliate formation represents Vishnu
in the middle, Brahma
on the left and Shiva
on the right. During the thread ceremony he must hold a staff of Palas wood and from the wood, sacred utensils are made as well. Sometimes a rare yellow variety of the Flame of the Forest is found in India. Frondosa that means "leafy" is a native of India. It is most common in Central India, and in the Western Ghats, but it can also be found in the dry, coal districts of Bengal
and to some extent in the state of Uttar Pradesh
, the Punjab
and also in the east to Burma.