facts of well-known tree
Most people in this country can identify an Araliya tree no matter
how little they know about trees. With its gnarled branches, long
leaves and distinctive flowers, it is easily one of the most common
and identifiable trees in Sri Lanka.
The bark is grey and scaly. The branches have a swollen appearance
and thicken towards the ends. A cut made on any part of the tree
will exude a milky, sticky sap. The leaves are smooth and shiny,
upto one foot long with well defined veins. They appear at the ends
of the branches.
The flowers which appear in clusters, again at the end of the branches,
are scented. The petals are waxy and the centre of the flower is
usually a different colour to the rest of it. For example the white
flowers generally have a yellow centre. There are many varieties
ranging from deep crimson to orange to white. The flowering season
is from March to May but throughout the year the tree usually produces
Temple tree is so called because the scented flowers are used as
temple offerings and often the tree is planted near temples. In
India the tree is a symbol of immortality because of its habit of
producing leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of
the soil. And so it is often planted near temples and graveyards,
“where daily the fresh creamy blooms fall upon the tombs”
(D.V. Cowen, Flowering Trees and Shrubs in India). The tree has
no timber or fuelwood uses. However it is used for many other purposes
in India, if not in Sri Lanka.
The milky sap seeping out of any crack on the tree is used as a
counter irritant for rheumatism and together with sandalwood oil
and camphor is a cure for itching. The bark too has medicinal properties
and is used to relieve fever, heal sores and as a purgative. Heated
leaves are used to relieve swellings.
The scientific name is Plumeria obtusa which it gets from the 17th
century French botanist Charles Plumier. It is commonly referred
to as the Frangipani after the famous fragrance created by Muzio
Frangipani. In Sinhala it is known as the Araliya and in Tamil as
the Arali or Perungalli.
Temple tree originated in tropical America and it is not certain
whether it was introduced in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese or much
earlier. The ladies depicted in the Sigiriya frescoes appear to
be carrying flowers very similar to those of the Araliya. If they
are in fact meant to be Araliya flowers then the tree would have
been introduced 1500 or more years ago.
however it is so common that it can be seen in gardens, parks and
along roadsides in Colombo and in the rural areas and has come to
be regarded as an indigenous tree by some.
by: Ruk Rakaganno, The Tree Society of Sri Lanka