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Fragrance that lingers

Though a native of the sub-Himalayan region, Parijatham is widely established all over south India


LEGEND HAS it that Parijataka, a princess of Puranic times, killed herself when her lover, the Sun, deserted her and from her ashes rose the tree, parijatham, which means `by nocturnal tears of blooms, shunning the sun'. The story and the dropping habit of branches gave the tree the name "Tree of Sorrow". Nevertheless, the creamy, fragrant flowers with their coral coloured tubes only exude cheer and do not suggest sadness.

Belonging to the family Oleaceae Jasmine, the scientific name of the plant is Nyctanthes arbor trislis, with only a single species to the genus. Nux in Greek is light, anothos is flower, arbor is tree and tritis is sorrow. Together the words mean `night flowering tree of sorrow'. The small flowers have a powerful smell and the night air is filled with a distinct fragrance, if the tree is around flowering.

The flowers are sessile, without stalk and fit into soft green cups, a leaflet sheathing each flower and fascicles of five flowers form heads. The half-inch orange tubes are surrounded by twisted, rolled and unequally-lobed petals. The brilliant coral colours are eye catching and cluster at the ends and sides of branchlets arising at leaf axils. When the flowers fall, they carpet the floor or float in the pond, with tubes standing erect and pointing upward. From the tubes, an orange coloured dye is prepared. It is used for dyeing silk. The nocturnal moths lepidoptera pollinate them. Considering the size of the flowers, fruits are large and look green first then turn brown and black and persist on the branches till the next flowering season.

The leaves vary in size but generally four inches by two inches ovate, opposite placed, short stalked, rounded at the base and pointed at the apex. The upper surface is dark green and under surface whitish-silver due to profuse hairs. The tough leaves are used as sand paper to polish wood and silver utensils.

Though a native of the sub Himalayan tract, the tree established widely all over the South. It is considered sacred and is grown in temples and gardens. Being a good coppicer, the branches, when cut produce several branchlets that bear many flowers. Planted cuttings and dibbled seeds grow easily and establish. The quadrangular stems droop gracefully to one side. Plant the tree in whatever little space is available for a harvest of happiness.

J. MANGALARAJ JOHNSON

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