Like botanical rubies the Flame Trees of Saipan are sprinkled around this jade green island, framing vistas and bringing visual joy to residents and visitors alike. They form the signature of this island. They provide a visual symphony that compliments the jungles, beaches, roadways, homes, parks and the many historic sites found here.
Just how they got here is lost in the mists of time. Some say a few seeds from Madagascar were brought by the Spanish during the period they held sway over the Marianas Islands. Some think they were naturally propagated and others believe they arrived more recently.
However the first ones got here, a major reason they are now so widespread is that indigenous Carolinian and Chamorro islanders planted seeds along our roadways in the 1960s. Those farsighted ‘Johnnie Appleseeds’ started a trend that continues today: volunteers replanting as older trees age and putting out new saplings for the next generations to enjoy. Let’s not forget our arboreal friends, the birds. By eating the seeds and ummmm, ‘spreading’ them around, they have seen to it that our hillsides and jungles are also aflame during the March to July blooming season.
A special festival is held in honor of the trees and uses their powerful visual image as a theme for an annual Micronesia-wide arts and crafts festival. This Flame Tree Festival, usually held in April on Saipan, draws dancers, artisans, carvers, painters and photographers from far and wide to enjoy the work of other artists and to offer their own art for sale or just for looking to the general public. Local delicacies abound in the food courts, traditional canoe carvers chip away using time honored techniques and tools, island dancers perform their rituals and photographers have a field day. A contest is held each year with prizes for the best photographs of the glorious trees and their scenic settings.
You can watch as an artist paints on leaves or bark with a banana stalk as his brush or see variously colored beach sand become a work of fine art under the hands of a Rota Island master. They come from Chuuk and Yap, Pohnpei and far off Jaluit, Palau and the many islands of the Caroline chains, and scores of other tropical isles.
Some years the Master Navigators from Satawal Island sail their hand hewn voyaging canoes to the Festival using no modern form of navigation…just hands in the water, a keen eye on the horizon and lore passed down from Master to apprentice for a thousand years. You can sometimes sit and talk with these lifelines to an age old culture.
Exotic? Oh yes. It is hard to imagine a more unusual setting as you stroll along, all shade dappled under the wide spreading flame trees while you enjoy the Flame Tree Festival.
You don’t have to be here in April. You can come any time to enjoy the splendor of the trees. Whether aflame with vibrant reds and oranges in their blooming season or green fern-leafed in their wide spreading arches during the rest of the year, they are a joy to behold.
Bring a camera and join in the fun. You can use your cell phone or a point-and-shoot cheapie or you can bring the most sophisticated of photographic equipment to bear. The pleasure is there for the taking. The majestic trees are everywhere scattered around the island waiting for you to put them in your viewfinder and in your kit of lifelong memories.
Come to the Northern Marianas Islands and see one of nature’s unique wonders. If you tire of the beautiful Flame Trees, there are many other things to see and do on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Golf, scuba, shopping, beach combing, fishing, hiking, biking and the list goes on. Most of that list can be done within sight of or under the shade of the awe inspiring Flame Trees of Saipan.
The Marianas Explorer
Bruce Bateman lives on Saipan Island in the tropical Pacific. He writes when the moon is full and mood strikes. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on www.facebook.com/bruce.bateman.5