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Saraca indica, a Chiang Mai December flame

December 12, 2010

Asoka or saraca (Saraca indica, Fabaceae) is currently in blossom at Dokmai Garden. In addition to the spectacular flowers, you may also admire the drooping handkerchiefs of light green young leaves. These leaves are actually edible when young and tender, offering you a slightly acidic experience. The tree has been proposed as the ‘sala’ under which Buddha was born, but so has the cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis, Lecythidaceae) which is displayed at many Thai temples. Unlike the South American cannonball tree, saraca is native to eastern Asia including India, but the real sal tree should be Shorea robusta (Dipterocarpaceae).

In India, saraca flowers symbolise Kama, the god of erotic love. It is even believed the flowers arouse passion. Some Hindu believe that if you immerse six blossoms in water and drink it, you will be protected from grief and trouble.

The fragrance reminds me of honey, but it is not very strong. Butterflies and bees are attracted, but usually not in great numbers.

At Dokmai Garden the tree seems to thrive in a sunny position where we can water it generously. Being an understorey tree, it can stand shade too.

Text: Eric Danell

Pictures: Frank Teng,  Tropical Gardening School student.

The glorious Saraca indica flowers


Hey, what is wrong with this picture? In the middle of the saraca flowers of the pea family (Fabaceae) I inserted a red Ixora flower, belonging to the coffee family (Rubiaceae)! Both of them seem to have four petals, but the ixora flower is composed of a 4-lobed tube. Unlike ixora, saraca has six or more protruding stamens, and the resulting fruits in saraca are bean pods, not berries like in ixora.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2010 10:27 PM

    I like this post.

  2. Janie permalink
    December 16, 2010 2:16 PM

    Saraca thaipingensis is a native of peninsular Malaysia. Several plants grow in the Penang Botanical Gardens.

    • December 16, 2010 3:00 PM

      Dear Janie,

      Yes, we grow S. thaipingensis at Dokmai garden too. When in blossom we shall write another blog. We should be happy to add the Penang Botanical Garden website to the list to your right, but currently their web page takes for ever to download.

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