11 November 2020
When the word "tropical" is spoken or thought, what usually comes to mind are images of lush jungle-like landscapes with brightly coloured flowers and deep green leaves. Putat, or Barringtonia asiatica, fits this description wholly. An evergreen tropical tree reaching heights of 60 to 90 feet in some instances, its bold shiny leaves and unique flowers typify tropical vegetation.
Native to tropical Asia, Madagascar and the islands in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, Putat has become a landscaping staple in many regions with similar climates. The box-shaped fruits of Putat are buoyant, which is likely why the tree became so widespread in the tropics.
As a coastal tree, Putat prefers sandy, well-drained soil, and can tolerate flooding to an extent. In some areas it can be found growing among mangrove forests, proving its salt-tolerant capabilities. It thrives in full sun to part shade and is an excellent shade tree, making it a popular choice as a street tree.
Blooming in the evening hours, the flowers are a striking bushy white ball with many hot pink tipped stamens. The flowers emit a sweet fragrance to attract bats and moths, their main pollinators. Most successfully propagated by seed, germination rates are high, but long — germination can take as long as 60 days in some cases. Putat can also be propagated by cuttings with a similar success rate.
The leaves are known to have medicinal purposes ranging from treatment of sores, stomach aches and rheumatism, but as always, it is very important to properly research and consult an expert prior to any experimentation. In some places the common name of Barringtonia asiatica is "fish poison tree" due to the highly toxic fruit.
In Camana Bay, Putat can be found in the Solaris Avenue roundabout near the Camana Bay Cinema parking lot and is planted as a street tree in the same area.
This article first appeared in the November 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times.
About the author
Shannon Schmidt is the Horticulture Manager at Dart’s Arboretum Services Ltd. Joining Dart in 2012, Shannon previously worked in parks, public gardens and tourism properties, among others. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Shannon loves island life, spending time paddleboarding around the canals and mangroves, in the sea, and spending time outdoors with her two energetic Boston Terriers Nollie and Ebbie and her equally energetic partner Chase! Shannon holds a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from The Pennsylvania State University and a Diploma in Horticulture from the Longwood Gardens Professional School of Horticulture, and loves spending time swinging in a hammock, with her favourite smoothie from Jessie’s Juice Bar and reading material from Books & Books.