Stereospermum fimbriatum (Wall. ex G. Don) A. DC.
by Dr. Avelinah Julius
Stereospermum fimbriatum (Wall. ex G. Don) A. DC.
by Dr. Avelinah Julius

Bignoniaceae is a well-known family that gives us many ornamental trees, shrubs or climbers with some fascinating and showy flowers of different of colours from a striking orange, yellow or purple to pale pink or white. Stereospermum fimbriatum is one of these and their corollas often detach from the inflorescence before dawn, so in the morning you will see the flowers carpeting the ground around the trees.

This medium-sized deciduous tree can reach to 27 m high and 150 cm in diameter. The bole is upright but slightly fluted at base. The bark is light grey, fissured and scaly, while the inner bark is laminated with distinct white and yellow patches. The leaves are once pinnate with 4−6 pairs of leaflets including terminal ones and covered with yellowish sticky hairs. The leaflets are elliptic to elliptic-oblong, 8−20 × 3−8.5 cm, with unequal bases and the apex long acuminate-caudate with an acumen 1.5−3 cm long. The inflorescence is a terminal panicle, in large spreading clusters from the bare twigs or together with new leaves.

The flowers are large, funnel-shaped (7−7.5 × 3.5−5 cm) and membranous, hairy outside but glabrous inside.The corolla lobes are deeply fringed, or in Latin “fimbriae” which is how Stereospermum fimbriatum gets its name. The calyx is purplish brown, shortly tubular about 1.5 cm long, with five small lobes pointed at apex, and covered with white hairs at base. The stamens are four in two pairs of unequal lengths, the short ones are c. 1.3 cm long, while the long ones are c. 1.7 cm long. The anthers are about 3 mm long. The style is 2.5−2.8 cm long. The twisted fruits are 37−75 cm long and hang in a loose extended coil. The seeds are 2−3.5 cm long with thick wings.

The Malay local names given for Stereospermum fimbriatum are “Chicha”, “Chacha” or “Chechar”. It is also known as snake tree, alluding to its long coiled fruits. This species is widely distributed in Peninsular Malaysia, but yet is not so common. It dwells in the lowlands and hill forest, and is also frequent in villages and belukar, or on rocky coast (Langkawi Islands).The species is also recorded from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand (Chiang Mai and Peninsular Thailand).

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