Cassia javanica ssp. nodosa(Roxb.) K.Larsen & S.S.Larsen 1974
pronounced: KASS-ee-uh juh-VAHN-ick-uh subspecies nod-OH-suh
(Fabaceae – the pea family)
subfamily: Caesalpinioideae — the cassia subfamily
common names: Pink Cassia, Java Cassia, Apple Blossom Tree
Cassia (or casia) is the Roman name of a tree; javanica is, of course, botanical Latin for ‘from Java’; nodosa is from the Latin nodus, a knot, referring to the stamens.
There is a great deal of confusion, and even disagreement, among botanists about the nomenclature of the members of this species, and about the colouring of the calyces of the flowers; moreover, quite a few hybrids have been produced.
This is one of the few species of pink cassia, the majority of the genus having, of course, yellow flowers. The species is native to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, but is very widely cultivated throughout the tropics.
Pink Cassia is a deciduous tree, quite large, with a fine spreading crown. It usually grows between 10 and 20 m tall, though it can grow up to 40 m. The leaves are stipulate, about 15–30 cm long, with 5–13 pairs of leaflets. These are 2.5–10 cm long, 1.2–2 cm wide, oblong or ovate, pointed; pilose becoming glabrous. The raceme resembles a corymb, 4–10 cm long.
Around Christmas, when the large showy flower clusters and tender green leaves appear, it presents a strikingly beautiful picture, enhanced by the varied tones of pink in each small cluster. These clusters arise on short stems from the scars of the old leaves. At the base of each flower stalk is a bract like a small leaf, and these numerous bracts crowded together form a long clump from which spring the downy red stalks. The calyx is dull red on both sides. The flowers, each about 5 cm across, are a deep pink when young, but fade almost to white. The 10 yellow stamens are in groups of 3, 4 and 3, crowned with delicate green anthers. The longest 3 are curled like the letter S, and have a curious balloon-like swelling in the middle.
The seed pods are cylindrical, 30–70 cm long and between 1 and 2 cm in diameter, turning black as they ripen. One description I have read states that they can grow as long as 5.5 m! This I would need to see for myself! As the pods ripen, the leaves fall.
The timber from this tree has 3 to 5 cm of white to light pinkish, very perishable sapwood which is very sharply differentiated from the heartwood; the latter is reddish when fresh, turning reddish brown to russet with age. The grain is crossed, often wavy or curly. Growth rings are absent or indistinct. The timber is easy to saw or machine, and can be brought to a very good finish. The wood is quite hard, and makes excellent flooring with its uniform dark colouring; it is also used for house construction, furniture and cabinet making. Smaller items, such as ashtrays, picture frames and bowls are also made from it. In Malaysia, together with other timbers from allied species, it is known as Bebusok.
Photographs © Donald Simpson in Birt Street, Picnic Bay, 2008-2010