Centurion tree flowers
It is approximately 60 feet tall and has been standing tall for 100 years. Even the tremors of April 25 or several other natural calamities that have hit West Bengal and Howrah in the past, have not managed to uproot the huge palm tree at Balai Mistri Lane in Shibpur. Enclosed within the compound of Tulsi Apartment, the palm is now, on its way out. This uncommon species of palm has turned 100 and its flowers have come out from the top like a coronet. The tree is said to flower once in 100 years and dies soon after that.
Arun Bera, a resident of Tulsi Apartment was the first to notice the palm flowering. “I have been seeing this palm tree since my childhood. In fact it has been here for four generations of our family. Before the apartment came up we lived on this plot where we had a huge garden and pond. There were many types of fruit trees in the garden. No one knows who planted this palm tree here. When the land was taken for development, we had asked the promoter to keep certain trees and this palm was one of them,” said Bera.
“This tree has never had flowers or fruits in the past. When I saw the flowers coming out, I suddenly recalled that my father had told me that this palm tree will flower when it will turn 100 and then die,” said Bera. The flowers look like a spiked crown growing from the top of the tree. The flower itself has grown to a height of a few feet above the tree. The huge flower coronet is visible better from the fifth floor terrace of the building. The leaves of the palm have dried out and no new leaves are coming out after the plant has flowered.
Although Bera has spread the news about the century palm among friends and neighbours, no expert has shown any interest as yet to come and see the tree. “I was hoping that someone from the Indian Botanic Garden (IBG), that is just a stone’s throw from this complex, will come to see this rare species. But no one has turned up as yet. I was fearing that the tree might get uprooted in the earthquake,” said Bera.
When asked, former curator and botanist of IBG, Debiprasad Banerjee, said, “The century palm belongs to the species Caryota Urens. Roxb. Its life span is 100 years. It dies after flowering and giving fruits. It is also known as African palm. The leaves will dry and fall and only the flower crown will remain. The leaves are large and strong and can be used to thatch a roof or even to make umbrellas. A thatched roof made of these leaves can easily last three to four years.” There are quite a few century palms at IBG. “There were 87 of them when I retired in 2010. I wonder how many are still living,” said Banerjee.