As her favoured trees burst into their flamboyant bloom November through February in Australia, youths will drive their girlfriends out to local lover's lane

The Phantom of the Poincianas

By —— Bio and Archives--October 20, 2018

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The Phantom of the Poincianas
Beneath the awesome flame-red flower display in Australia’s Top End wanders an eerie apparition. Known to longtime Darwin locals as the Poinciana Women, tales are told of her origin. But although oft alleged, she is seldom seen—or heard. Urban legend, Asian myth or historical figure?

Once upon a time, ‘tis said, a beautiful brown-skinned Malay woman was raped by a group of Japanese fishermen out on East Point.


Or perhaps it was an equally attractive Aboriginal woman, becoming pregnant after being raped by soldiers and so unable to return to her people, took her life beneath a poinciana, ever since haunting the same trees at East Point Reservation.

Some claim she only materializes to wreak revenge. The ghastly spectre floats under the dusk darkened trees. Long black hair deluging down, white dress cascading. Screams reverberate through the air. Hands twist and wreath, seeking blood. Men’s blood.

The 200 hectares of tropical bush that now form the East Point Reserve on the outskirts of Darwin, are comprised of walking trails, a lake, horse paddocks—and an abandoned World War II military fortress. This last seems to be the Poinciana Woman’s favourite habitats to haunt.

But the Delonix regia, the tree that lend their name to her, is not native to Australia or, indeed, anywhere nearer than Madagascar, far, far away west across the Indian Ocean. Under threat of extinction on that unique island, it has found its niche as a landscape shade tree throughout the tropics and subtropics.

How did these trees arrive in Australia’s Top End? Until recently it was assumed that European settlers had introduced them. Now local botanists have suggested it was more likely Filipino and Malaysian fishermen in 1930s. Possible it was also they who imported the legend of the she-devil Pontianak, an ever-popular Southeast Asian ghost story. This laid the foundations for the Poinciana Woman.

As her favoured trees burst into their flamboyant bloom November through February in Australia, youths will drive their girlfriends out to local lover’s lane. At Darwin’s East Point will they encounter a different shade than that proffered by the poinciana tree? Will their screams be of pleasure or terror? For some say the Poinciana Woman continues to haunt the dark forests, seeking gruesome revenge . . .


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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