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Characteristics of Flame of the Forest Tree (Butea monosperma) in the Wild

Flame of the Forest Tree (Butea monosperma)

Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma) is a plant species native to tropical and subtropical regions of South and Southeast Asia. This tree is distributed in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and western Indonesia.

In Indonesia, many local names are used to refer to Butea monosperma including Palasa, Plasa, Ploso, Palash, and Palasha. Internationally known as Plasu, Dhak, Moduga Chettu, Chamata, Vishalnarayan, Bastard Teak, and Flame of the Forest. In Theravada Buddhism, this tree is called Medhankara (මේධංකර).

The Flame of the Forest tree is revered as something sacred by Hindus. Apart from that, this tree is also cultivated as an ornamental tree because it produces abundant flowers in the dry season.

Flame of the Forest is the National Flower of Jharkhand, State of India.


The Flame Tree of The Forest is revered by Hindus and Buddhists. It is said to have been used as a tree to attain enlightenment or Bodhi by the second Buddha, Medhaṅkara Buddha.

In Telangana, the flowers are specially used in the worship of Shiva on the occasion of Shivaratri.

Sikh History Vol. 1, written by the renowned Punjabi writer Khushwant Singh, describes the landscape of Punjab as: “While the margosa still sprinkles the earth with its fragile ocher leaves, the silk cotton, corals, and flames of the forest burst into bright scarlet, scarlet, and orange flowers.” References to this tree are frequently found in Punjabi literature. Punjabi poet, Harinder Singh Mehboob uses symbolism in his poetry.


Characteristics of Flame of The Forest Leaf

Butea monosperma Leaf
Source: Sutrishna Halder

The leaves are pinnate, with petioles 8-16 cm long and three leaflets, each leaflet 10-20 cm long.

Characteristics of Flame of the Forest Flower

Butea monosperma Flower
Source: Priyanka Suman

The flowers are about 2.5 cm long, orange to bright red, and appear in racemes up to 15 cm long. Each flower has five petals, and two wings, and resembles a parrot’s curved beak.

The flowers often bloom in late winter in areas with a suitable climate. If the winter is too cold, too dry, or too wet, this tree may not flower.

Characteristics of Flame of the Forest Fruit

Butea monosperma Fruit
Source: Lanna Mountains Charlie

The fruit is a pod 15-20 cm long and 4-5 cm wide.

Characteristics of Flame of The Forest Tree

Butea monosperma Tree
Source: Mukesh Kumar Mahato

Flame of The Forest is a deciduous tree in the dry season, it can grow up to 15 meters high. This tree grows relatively slowly, but tolerates a wide range of soil types and is resistant to long periods of drought. The bark is dirty white and the wood is soft.

Flame of The Forest trees grow best in sunny tropical areas, deep, fertile, organically rich, well-drained soil, and in full sun.

The most easily recognized characteristic of the Flame of The Forest tree is its bright orange to red flowers with five petals resembling a parrot’s beak.

Benefits of Flame of The Forest Tree

Farmers usually use trees on rice field embankments to reduce soil erosion.

This tree serves as an important host in India for the lac insect (Laccifer lacca) which produces Sirlak.

The bark produces a red sap which when dried hardens, which is called Butea Gum or Bengal Kino. Butea gum was considered prized by pharmacists for its astringent and tannin qualities.

In the state of Maharashtra, India, the flowers are made into a tea that is thought to have medicinal benefits, especially for liver problems.

The flowers are used to prepare traditional Holi colors called Kesari. It is also used as a dye for fabrics.

Butein, a bright yellow to deep orange-red dye made from flowers is mostly used for silk and sometimes for cotton. Hindus paint their foreheads with this color.

The seeds of the fruit show anthelmintic (anti-worm), bactericidal, and fungicide effects so they are used to treat worms.

How to Cultivate Flame of The Forest Trees

Flame of The Forest trees can be cultivated by grafting and sowing seeds. Generally, farmers will graft this tree because they get the desired plant size. However, growing them from seeds has a higher success rate than grafts.

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