‘Curry’ is a word referring to hot spicy mixes. There are endless variations with different ingredients. Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii, Rutaceae) is a well known ingredient in many Indian curries, but what about the western curry, what the westerners would refer to as ‘curry smell’? It is derived from the seeds of a plant called fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum, Fabaceae). The characteristic ‘curry fragrance’ of fenugreek can be found in other plants and even mushrooms, and can be of diagnostic help.
One plant commonly sold in Thailand is Sauropus thorelii (Phyllanthaceae/Euphorbiaceae). We can call it ‘curry flower’ in English, as the most conspicuous trait of the red flowers is the fragrance of fenugreek or ‘curry’. The leaves have no such fragrance, and the leaves are indeed quite pleasant to eat raw. The plant is only known from Thailand and Laos.
The underside of a curry flower branch. Each leaf has two sharp thorn-like stipules. Note the zigzag growth of the glabrous stem. You will also feel two ridges with your fingers. The inflorescence’s fragrance of ‘western curry’ is conspicuous, but you may encounter other Sauropus with a similar fragrance. According to Flora of Thailand there are 27 species of Sauropus in Thailand. Traditionally Sauropus has been grouped within the rubber tree family Euphorbiaceae, although Sauropus lacks the typical white latex. Lately, plants with Euphorbia-like blossom but which lack the latex have been grouped in the Phyllanthaceae family. I think that makes sense.
Welcome to visit Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai where you can taste both curry leaf and curry flower. With this new species we hit 1055 plant species in our collection. To study such a vast number you need many days. You may therefore want to consider investing in a VIP card with unlimited access for a year, or you take a tropical gardening school class. You pay to obtain knowledge, and we use the money to run Dokmai Garden and the Orchid Ark. Cheaper than golf!
Extra news: Crackdown on land encroachers in Hang Dong/Opkhan national park. We welcome that the authorities take the national parks seriously. The mad thing is that people still take a piece of a national park and start building. It is a huge pedagogic challenge to explain to the Thais what a national park is. Read more here!
Text and Photo: Eric Danell