Cassia fistula must be one of the most adored trees on earth – from Sri Lanka through Thailand, Myanmar, India, Pakistan and beyond, Amaltas, the golden rain tree, has liberally offered its bounty to birds, butterflies, jackals and humans – amongst others, in the form of food, medicine, shelter and, of course, spectacular aesthetics. The young of the butterflies, Catopsilia pomona and C. pyranthe, and, no doubt many others, have their start in life amongst the gleaming young leaves. Thailand has honoured it with the status of national tree and flower and great avenues of it are planted in Pakistan and elsewhere to annually thrill locals during the flowering season. Taxonomically speaking, C. fistula has been accepted as a true Cassia species, placing it definitively amongst nearly seven hundred Cassias named so far, though quite a few of those are currently being evicted and re-homed in other genera. The tree’s gifts to Ayurvedic medicine have been so long appreciated that the Sivikasotthi–Sala, built by King Pandukabhaya throughout Sri Lanka for the care of the sick during his reign in the second to third century BCE, were no doubt part of the dispensaries. Incidentally, one of those, Mihintale, is the oldest known hospital in the world.
Painting C. fistula was a humbling experience, in part because I had to rescue it from a watercolourist’s worst nightmare – water flooding over an almost finished painting ! I’d left the doors of my house ajar to allow my then five rescue dogs free access to the outside world – a sudden storm burst them open and rain targeted my painting. Hours of effort were required to finally restore it. The dogs had only previously ever known life on rubbish tips, but their naturally exquisite manners meant that whenever I walked them, always of course without leads around the neighbourhood, people asked if they could have one. I always refused when I’d ascertained that their destiny would become a life of hell, sadistically chained to a small kudu at the bottom of a garden – a cheap replacement for a burglar alarm – until they went mad with loneliness and fear.
Rightly or wrongly, I decided, when with breaking heart I finally had to leave them behind in the days before dogs could be brought back to England, that they would be better off in the care of the wonderful local dog charity run against great odds by a German mother and Sri Lankan daughter team. Or even scavenging together back on the rubbish tips – at least free © Frances Livingstone 2018