Just begging to be climbed… (Source: arborsmith.com)
THE Perak state assembly’s recent sitting, under the rain tree of a parking lot close to the Perak Darul Ridzuan complex, has been inspirational to many. Who would have thought politicians, with their natural inclination towards leisure, had the mettle to brave the late-morning sun in full regalia?
Some groups, it appears, have taken this chapter in Malaysian history as a parable, fertile with life lessons. I found the following page while having lunch at a kopitiam. It seems to have come detached from the rest of the pamphlet.
and while they did not sit — much less meditate — it is timely to re-examine, for the benefit of all calm- and centre-seeking persons, various tree species and their wisdom.
Palm treeThis guide will focus on varieties of shade-giving trees native to the region.
The Rain Tree
Albizia (or Samanea, depending on who you ask) saman
This was the species under which Perak speaker V Sivakumar reportedly sat. It tends towards massive, umbrella-shaped crowns. Its branches typically play host to an embracing diversity of epiphytes: from pigeon orchids to stag’s horn ferns.
Its Malay moniker is Pukul Lima; the names in both languages are a reference to the tree’s leaves’ tendency to fold up before sunset or impending rain. Such sensitivity to changing conditions — so that energy is not expended needlessly — is something we forget easily these days. Who among us, caught by a sudden downpour as we dash from lunch back to the office, hasn’t wished we remembered to pack a raincoat?
Tradition corner: Did you know that a giant rain tree is a Venezuelan national treasure? It is said that the great Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar held a conference under the venerable tree’s eaves, during which traitors to the revolution were revealed. It has become tradition for the rulers and presidents of that nation to stand under its shadow, dance the samba, and wait for advice. (Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t.)
The Angsana Tree
A fast-growing species, the angsana grows into a wide, drooping dome-shaped crown. It is a hardwood that is resistant to termites, and smells of roses.
The tree’s most conspicuous feature is its flowering, which in Malaysia happens typically between February and May. The angsana’s multitude of yellow flowers begins as quite inconspicuous buds, but the right conditions will cause them to burst into bloom, all at once and sometimes within a day.
(© Slurp / Flickr)
Such beauty is very fleeting, as the flowers rain down the very next morning. For a while, the shed flowers will cover roadsides and car parks, like a yellow snowfall, easily stirred by wind. You’ve probably marvelled at these golden showers yourself. However, the passage of human life means that such pretty scenes never last long.
Tradition corner: Did you know that angsana plays a pivotal role in the creation myths of the Caragarzon ng tradition? In this Filipino retelling of the Christian genesis, Father Charnt and his elders voted, five to three, to allow Noah to build the Ark. The Ark incited God to such an anger that He [or She] brought the flood and destruction of the earth.
The Banyan Tree
The above species comes from India, where European travellers named it after traders, or banias, that frequented its giving shade. Today, the word “banyan” can refer to any variety of strangler fig.
LavatreeThe banyan begins life as an epiphyte, growing in the crevices of a host tree and relying on it for support and advantageous access to the sun’s energies. In time, the banyan gently overruns its kind forbear, slowly wrapping the host tree’s trunk with a sheath of roots. Eventually the host dies. By this time the banyan is able to stand on its own.
As it ages, the branches that make up the banyan’s distinct, wide crown send aerial prop roots towards the earth. These eventually become trunklike, and over the years may be indistinguishable from the main trunk.
Some may call the banyan a user, but a less negative way of looking at it is to take the banyan’s lesson as being about fulfilling one’s personal potential.
Hindus consider the banyan sacred, viewing its endless expansion as a metaphor for eternal life. While none of us will live forever, it is safe to say that all of us want to “be all we can be”. After all, talented children eventually surpass their parents, and effective ministers in government may be promoted over their bosses.
Tradition corner: There is so much! Almost all Asian cultures have stories about or associated with the banyan. You are likely familiar with some of them.
Did you know that the underground roots of some banyan species can be dried and smoked as a painkiller and giddy relaxant? Medicinal varieties include
Zedeck Siew is sitting under a coconut tree.