It looks like an orchid hanging from a tree, but no – these flowers come from the tree itself. This is the Pride of Burma or the Queen of Flowering Trees. I saw it in flower in Gampaha botanical gardens, Sri Lanka, in February 2005. I’ve never seen it since but it stays in my memory as a remarkable sight.
Amherstia is a tree in the Fabaceae – that’s the pea and bean family. But that’s a huge group and it comes from a subfamily called the Detarioideae which includes other gorgeous flowering trees such as Brownea and the delicious tamarind – Tamarindus indica.
Named after the Countess Sarah Amherst, a British naturalist, this tree is native to Burma or Myanmar. Apparently it is very rare in the wild and seems to be very poor at producing seed. Of course it’s widely planted in humid tropical regions but I wouldn’t say it’s a common sight. It is slow growing and difficult to propagate. Looking on the web I see there are images from India, Indonesia and Florida.
It’s not a huge tree – about 10 to 15m – but the inflorescences dangle from the branches in a lovely way. The leaves are large and pinnate and weep gently.
You’d be fortunate to come across one of these trees!