Peltophorum pterocarpum (PROSEA)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Logo PROSEA.png
Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Peltophorum pterocarpum (DC.) Backer ex K. Heyne

Protologue: Nutt. Pl. Ned. Ind., 2nd ed., Vol. 2: 755 (1927).
Family: Leguminosae
Chromosome number: 2n= 26, 28


  • Peltophorum ferrugineum (Decne.) Benth. (1864),
  • Peltophorum inerme (Roxb.) Naves & Villar (1880).

Vernacular names

  • Yellow flame, copper pod, yellow poinciana (En)
  • Indonesia: soga (general), soga jambal (Javanese)
  • Malaysia: batai laut, jemerelang laut
  • Philippines: siár (Sulu)
  • Thailand: non see (general), krathin paa (Trat), saan ngoen (Mae Hong Son)
  • Vietnam: lim sét, trac vàng.

Origin and geographic distribution

Yellow flame is distributed over a large area ranging from Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, Thailand and Indo-China (Vietnam and Cambodia), through the whole of Malesia to northern Australia. In Malesia, the species occurs throughout Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and locally in Papua New Guinea (mouth of Bensbach River). It is widely cultivated throughout its natural area of distribution, and also in the Bismarck Archipelago, India, tropical Africa, the West Indies, Central America, Florida and Hawaii.

Production and international trade

Recent data on production and trade are not available. Barks are becoming more and more scarce at markets in central Java.


The bark represents an important component of "soga" dye in Java, and is often mixed with the bark of Ceriops tagal (Perr.) C.B. Robinson, the wood of Maclura cochinchinensis (Lour.) Corner, and other ingredients. The bark is also used in tanning leather, and for preserving and dyeing fishing nets. In India it is sometimes used as a substitute for wattle (Acacia spp.) bark blended with myrobalans from Terminalia spp. to get a better result. On Timor (Indonesia) the bark is used for fermenting palm wine. In traditional medicine the bark is used in various preparations as a tonic or an astringent to cure or relieve intestinal disorders, afterpain at childbirth, sprains, bruises and swellings, or as a lotion for eye troubles, muscular pains and sores.

Yellow flame is commonly used as an ornamental in gardens, parks and road-sides because of its showy fragrant yellow flowers which contrast with the reddish-brown pods, and its umbrella-shaped crown. It is also used as a shade and cover plant in cacao and coffee plantations. Since it is fast-growing and wind-firm, yellow flame is used for reforestation of wastelands covered with "alang-alang" grass ( Imperata cylindrica (L.) Beauv.) and as a windbreak. The tree also serves as a host for the lac insect. The leaves, which are rich in protein, are used as cattle feed, e.g. in Madura (East Java). The beautiful golden yellow flowers may be used as cut-flowers.

The timber is suitable for cabinet work, coach-building, furniture and planks, but it is little used for these purposes; it is used as fuel.


The bark contains 11-21% tannin which is of the proanthocyanidin type. The tannin gives a fairly light-coloured, full and strong leather of desirable feel. Wood and leaves contain smaller amounts of tannin.

The bark yields a reddish-brown dye, the nature of which is not known but which is probably connected with the tannin. The dye, used in Indonesia in a mixture of several vegetable dyes and other ingredients, is a "mordant dye"; this means that a mordant must be used to give the colour fastness. The leaves contain a large amount of proteins. An antifungal principle is present in leaflets and buds. An alcoholic extract from the flowers has an anti-inflammatory effect in mice and rats, and also an antibacterial activity. The flowers contain a flavanone glycoside pigment, naringenin 7-glucoside. The sapwood is whitish and distinct; the heartwood is light reddish-brown, moderately heavy, moderately hard and fine-textured. It is easy to work, and resistant to insect attack.


  • A deciduous, usually medium-sized tree, up to 30 m tall, sometimes a large tree (up to 50 m), with a straight trunk and a dense umbrella-shaped crown; trunk generally up to 70 cm in diameter, often less, sometimes buttressed; bark up to 15 mm thick, pink coloured in cross section, light brown to red inside.
  • Leaves bipinnately compound with 4-15 pairs of pinnae, and a rusty pubescent petiole and rachis together 25-30 cm long; stipules small; leaflets in 8-22 pairs per pinna, oblong-elliptic, 8-30 mm × 3-10 mm, oblique at base, rounded-emarginate at apex, finely pubescent beneath.
  • Flowers in racemes combined into a terminal up to 45 cm long panicle, 5-merous, fragrant and long-stalked; sepals 5-10 mm long, reflexed; petals (ob)ovate or orbicular, 1.5-2.5 cm long, yellow, wavy and spreading; stamens 10, filaments woolly at base; ovary superior and hairy, style filiform.
  • Fruit an elliptic to oblong-lanceolate pod, 5-13.5 cm × 1.5-2.5 cm, shortly stalked, acute at apex, more or less winged, glabrous, longitudinally veined and copper coloured when ripe, later blackish, 1-5-seeded.
  • Seeds oblong, 10-12 mm × 5 mm, flattened. Germination epigeal, seedling with 4-6 cm long hypocotyl and stalked, 3-nerved, glabrous cotyledons.

Growth and development

The first leaf of the seedling has 4-6 pairs of opposite and almost sessile leaflets. Subsequent leaves are also evenly pinnate, but soon the leaves become bipinnately compound. Yellow flame is fast-growing. Young trees raised from seed will flower in 4 years under good conditions. The crown is at first bushy and flat-topped, then the outer branches gradually increase in length and finally droop to the ground to form an umbrella-shaped crown. In South-East Asia yellow flame sheds leaves during 1-2 weeks after a pronounced dry weather period, then develops new shoots. After flushing the tree starts flowering. At first, young upstanding clusters of brown flower buds darken the crown. The buds of each raceme open from the base of the raceme towards the apex; several flowers open at the same time. This makes the crown full of blooms of a bright golden-yellow colour which lasts for several weeks. Only a few flowers develop into purple-brown pods which protrude above the crown. The cycle of flushing and leaf fall varies, and is genetically controlled. In Peninsular Malaysia the cycle varies between 6 and 9 months, but in other places it is more regular. It seems that regularity is due to selection under strongly seasonal conditions.


Under natural conditions yellow flame is a lowland species, rarely occurring above 100 m altitude. It frequently grows along beaches and in mangrove forest, especially along the inner margin of the mangroves. In Java it is also found probably wild in Imperata fields and teak forests. The species prefers open forest. It has been suggested that yellow flame thrives best under more or less seasonal conditions. Under cultivation, yellow flame can be grown well up to 600 m altitude, sometimes even up to 1600 m, e.g. in Papua New Guinea.

Propagation and planting

Yellow flame can be propagated by seeds, graftings or cuttings. Untreated seeds need several months to germinate. Germination is hastened by filing or scarifying one end of the hard seed-coat, softening the seed-coat in diluted acid, or immersing the seed in boiling water for 2 minutes followed by soaking it in cold water for one night.

Preferably, seedlings are raised in nurseries for about a year before transplanting into the field. Young trees are often planted in an intercropping system with mahogany or teak. Grafts or cuttings may be used for better uniformity for road-side trees.


After the first year of establishment in the field, little effort is needed to maintain yellow flame plantations. The stand will survive even when the ground is covered by a thick mass of "alang-alang" and other tall grasses.

Diseases and pests

Yellow flame does not suffer much from diseases and pests. However, in Singapore the foliage is severely damaged by the night-flying beetle Autoseria rufocuprea. Powdery mildew caused by Oidium spp. is reported from India.

Handling after harvest

In the traditional brown dyeing of "batik" in Indonesia, the cotton cloth which has been given a specific pattern and which has been waxed by means of writing ("batik tulis") or stamping ("batik cap") is immersed in a solution of "soga" dye. Usually parts of the cloth have already been dyed dark blue using indigo or synthetic dyes, but the colour will become black after soga dyeing.

The solution of soga dye is prepared as follows: bark of yellow flame is mixed with bark of Ceriops tagal and wood of Maclura cochinchinensis. These materials are chopped into chips about 5 cm long and put into a big jar of water until the chips are fully submerged. After boiling for several hours to reduce the amount of water by half, the thick solution is transferred to a pan and water is added again to the chips in the jar. The chips may be extracted in the same way 3 times, and the resulting solutions are added to the first solution.

The proportion of the barks and wood depends on the colour desired. A large proportion of yellow flame bark gives a dark brown colour; large proportions of Ceriops bark and Maclura wood give reddish-brown and yellow-brown colours, respectively. Usually the bark of yellow flame is the main ingredient. Sometimes wood of Caesalpinia sappan L. or bark of Albizia lebbekoides (DC.) Benth. is added to give the dyeing solution a more reddish colour, and pine resin is often added to the mixture, too. However, materials used for soga dyeing vary according to the place of batik production.

The cloth is immersed in the cooled solution for about 15 minutes and is turned over and over to let the solution penetrate evenly. Then the cloth is hung on a rack over the pan; when it has stopped dripping, it is removed and dried in the shade. The process of immersion and drying is repeated until the desired colour is obtained. Usually 16-18 immersions are sufficient, but for fine batik sometimes 30 immersions are necessary to obtain an even colour. After the last dyeing bath, the cloth is immersed in a lime solution and then boiled in water to liquefy the wax. The wax is scraped off the cloth, which is then washed in fresh water and dried.

To develop and make the colour fast, the batik cloth is immersed in a mordant bath which is a mixture of water, sugar, alum, lime juice, and sometimes the flower buds of Sophora japonica L., lac-dye and other ingredients. The result of this long process of soga dyeing is a cloth with yellowish- to reddish-brown colours which shade off gradually into one another. The cloth has a typical smell which differs from cloths dyed with synthetic dyes. The colours may last long, but the cloth should not be washed in soap or a detergent solution. For washing, a solution of ripe fruits of Sapindus rarak DC. in water should be used, and drying should be done in the shade.


In recent years yellow flame has become a widely appreciated ornamental plant for gardens and road-sides. Its prospects as an ornamental are very good because this species is quick-growing, fairly resistant to insect attack, and very showy with its spreading crown and profusion of yellow flowers.

The use of the bark in dyeing is decreasing rapidly. Dyers tend to use synthetic dyes because they are easier to obtain and cheaper, the colours are fast, and the quality of the batik cloth can be standardized. The bark of yellow flame is still used in the manufacture of "soga" batiks, especially in central Java. The germplasm of yellow flame must be collected and evaluated if this species is to have a chance to be a dye plant in the future.


  • Corner, E.J.H., 1988. Wayside trees of Malaya. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. The Malayan Nature Society. United Selangor Press, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 440-441.
  • Ng, F.S.P., 1980. The phenology of the yellow flame tree, Peltophorum pterocarpum. Malayan Nature Journal 33: 201-208.
  • Reyes, L.J., 1938. Philippine woods. Department of Agriculture and Commerce. Technical Bulletin No 7. Bureau of Printing, Manila. pp. 113, 474, 489, 496.
  • Sangat, H.M., 1977. Peltophorum pterocarpum (DC.) Back. (Caesalpiniaceae). In: Rifai, M.A. (Editor): Indonesian Economic Plant Resources No 10. Lembaga Biologi Nasional, Bogor. 1 p.
  • Sastri, B.N. (Editor), 1966. The wealth of India. Raw materials. Vol. 7. Publications & Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi. pp. 398-399.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1979. A manual of New Guinea Legumes. Botany Bulletin No 11. Office of Forests, Division of Botany, Lae, Papua New Guinea. pp. 16-18, fig. 1.


N. Wulijarni-Soetjipto & R.H.M.J. Lemmens