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The real sal tree – wanted!

April 21, 2010

At Thai temples people marvel the tree under which Buddha was born, the sal tree. But what the Thai monks claim is the sal tree, is Couroupita guianensis, the Cannonball tree. This tree comes from South America, and as far as we know Buddha was never in South America. There are many amateur pictures on internet, showing the Cannonball tree, but using the wrong scientific name (the one for the REAL sal tree, Shorea robusta). Shorea robusta (Dipterocarpaceae) and Couroupita guianensis (Lecythidaceae) do not resemble each other at all. They belong to totally different families and have totally different flowers and fruits. To see an approved picture of Shorea robusta, the Indian Sal under which Buddha was born, go to wikipedia.

The reason why there is a total confusion, is because of the vernacular names. “Sala” in Thai is applied to many species, and hence it has caused terrible confusion. In addition, some people confuse the Cannonball tree (the wrong “sal”) with Gustavia, another South American tree of the same family (Lecythidaceae). Sometimes you see Gustavia at a Thai temple, which is a confusion with the Cannonball tree, which is a confusion with the sal tree. To be able to correct the mistake, we should love to grow Shorea robusta here at Dokmai Garden. Years of search have still been in vain, people always bring the wrong tree, which is strange, as Shorea robusta is a very common timber tree in northern India. Right now we have a Czeck tree surgeon in India searching for us. Do you grow it in your garden? Are you sure (check with the Wikipedia pictures)? In that case, kindly send us some seeds, please. We already have Gustavia and Couroupita.

Best regards, Eric Danell

P.S. If you don’t know the names, you don’t know the plants (Linnaeus)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Akira permalink
    April 13, 2011 1:53 PM

    FWIW http://www.seedvendor.com/ says they carry the seed. (I’m not affiliated with them in any way.)

    • April 13, 2011 4:38 PM

      Dear Akira,

      Many thanks. I tried this option twice, and the delivery was slow and the seeds were dry and full of weevils. We need to keep searching.

      Cheers, Eric

  2. Pieter Bekkers permalink
    August 12, 2011 2:10 AM

    Hi Eric,

    thank you for this great article on the Cannon ball tree. Maybe young Ketsamanee has told you about my writings on this tree. See my album on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1539619630727.61074.1842013010&type=1 called: Dr Piya Chalermglin’s visit to the Top End. Now I am gouing to see what my friend Tou (Saramat Ruchkaew) will make of your article.
    Thank you again,

    Pieter Bekkers

  3. August 12, 2011 9:48 AM

    Shorea robusta has to be in Thailand as I have seen it in Thai books – but where?

    Cheers, Eric

  4. Le Huu Hoang Gia permalink
    December 16, 2014 3:25 PM

    I would love to here if you are succeed in growing the real Shorea robusta. As a really big fan of Buddhism, I too, really want some seeds so that I could raise it in Vietnam. Please be succeed, such beautiful tree I’ve ever seen so far.

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