Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.
The Orange Tower
The scientific name of the Orange Tower flower is Clerodendrum paniculatum. The other popular names are Pagoda flower and Borneo Sunset. It is a native plant to Asia. The plants belonging to the Clerodendrum group are collectively known as witches’ tongues and are members of the Verbenaceae plant family, which is better known for its mystical member, the Vervain plant. The vervain plant has a long mythical history where it is consumed and used to ward off vampires and werewolves.
The flowers of Orange Tower, a tropical perennial plant, are known to attract butterflies and hence in any tropical butterfly garden, it is a must addition. The Common Jezebel, Blue Mormon, and the Malabar Raven butterflies are frequent visitors to these flowers. Swallowtails also swarm these flower clusters to collect honey from their tiny panicles. Plenty of moisture and filtered sunlight are the weather conditions for this plant to thrive. They grow up to 3-5 feet in a year and they can propagate through both branch cuttings and from rhizomes. One flower cluster will have hundreds of flowers in them. Some flowers will grow to be one foot high. A paste made of the leaves of this plant is applied to wounds and burns as herbal medicine. Certain types of snake bites are treated with the roots of the Pagoda plant.
The Malaysian and Indonesian people believe in the spiritual powers of this plant and that they can summon up spirits. Malay hunters also are known to keep them with them to summon up the wild game when going on hunting expeditions. In traditional Malay weddings and other rituals, this flower cluster is used to sprinkle the sacred water upon the people around. The priest or the person in charge of the ceremony would dip it in the sacred water and shake it up on the onlookers.
Hill Glory Flower
The Hill Glory
Cleodendrum Infortunatum is the Hill Glory plant that has a similar inflorescence to the Pagoda plant but is smaller and in a different colour. It is a commonly used Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy herb. Place of origin in Malay island. The flowers are white with a shade of pink inside and have a sweet fragrance close to the jasmine flower. It is used as a herbal medicine for cough and skin problems because of its anti-inflammatory properties. The root, leaf and stem extracts have a wide variety of medicinal uses including in the treatment of epilepsy, fever, jaundice, cirrhosis, and tumours. It is also used as a pesticide against the rhinoceros beetle which is a pest that attacks coconut trees.
Hill Glory: The Natural Toilet Paper
In India, the leaves of this plant have unique use. They are used as toilet paper for newborn babies. It is probably the property of these leaves as a medicinal herb to kill the worms inside the human stomach that gave rise to this practice. Also, the leaves being velvety and super-soft, the delicate skin around the anus of the newborn baby will remain safe with this natural toilet paper.
Pagoda Flower: The Ornamental Head Flower of the Mythical Egalitarian King
The story has many socio-cultural and political connotations. Mahabali was an ancient mythical king who ruled Kerala, the South Indian state of India. During his reign, people were equal and all prospered equally. He was also an Asura king, Asura being the clan of evil powers. Vishnu, the head of the clan of the Gods did not like it that under an Asura king, a kingdom prospered and all the people loved that Asura king. So he came in the form of a brahmin child priest named Vamana, begging for alms. The social norm is that a member of the brahmin community, who are the spiritual keepers of divine knowledge, should not be turned down if he asks for something. Also, the king’s benevolence knew no boundaries. The king asked Vamana to make a wish. He asked for some land that can be measured in 3 feet. The king happily permitted him to measure three feet of whichever land he needed. Vamana then began to grow in size and soon towered above the palace and the tallest trees.
With his first measure of a foot, Vamana took the entire earth. With his second measure of a foot, he took the underworld. There was no more land left for the third foot measure. So, the king asked him to put his foot on his head. Vamana, who was crafty and shrewd, with his foot pushed the king down into the ‘Paatal’, the dark underbelly of the earth and thus banished him from the kingdom. However, the people of Kerala did not forget him. When Mahabali begged Vamana to let him visit his people, Vamana allowed Mahabali to visit his subjects once a year and this day is still the most joyous festival in Kerala, Onam. On this occasion, people would prepare floral carpets in their courtyards to welcome Mahabali for ten consecutive days. On the last day, they would make cone-shaped mud statuettes, decorate them with flowers, and worship them as their beloved king. The whole inflorescences of the pagoda flowers and Hill Glory are used to decorate the head of the statuettes and they would look like beautiful jewelled crowns in their orange-red and pink-white magnificence. And the story is interpreted as how the upper caste Hindus controlled the lower caste narratives of a more just society that existed once.
Like many other members of the plant kingdom, the Orange Tower and Hill Glory have made intricate human connections as herbs, magical cultural symbols, and aesthetic reminders of a time when all lived in harmony and peace. All these profound connections are what make our lives on earth equally a mystery and delight.
Clerodendrum paniculatum Pagoda Flower, mynicegarden.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Deepa