The tree that never perishes

A symbol of immortality, the Temple tree or the Champa tree, continues to bloom even after it is uprooted. Vikram Nanjappa tells you more.

Trees, plants and shrubs are all important parts of the urban ecosystem. Without them there would be very little urban wildlife. It is impossible to separate the animal from its habitat and Bangalore has the privilege of having many varieties of flowering and non-flowering trees. These trees comprise of both native and non-native species that were introduced into the city. Some of these non-native trees have been in India for long that we take them to be native, some have adapted and flourished so well that we now call them ‘naturalised’.

The Temple Tree. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

The Frangipani , Champa or Temple Tree (Plumeria sp) is one such tree that was introduced into India. It originates from the warmer parts of America, Jamaica, Guatemala and Mexico. It has been cultivated in India for ages and has acquired local names in different parts of the country. It has even been assimilated into the myths and religious beliefs of our country.

There are 31 identified types of this tree but the most common of these are the P.alba and P.rubra.

It is a medium-sized, deciduous tree with a smooth grey-coloured bark. When the bark is pierced a white milky fluid oozes out. This milky substance gives it a few of its common names – Frangipani which is derived from the French word for coagulated milk and the Sanskrit name Kshirachampa which translates as the Milky Champa.

The flower of the Frangipani blooms even after the tree is uprooted. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

During the leafless phase the tree looks pale, ugly and gouty. But once it flowers it is transformed into one of the most beautiful of trees. The leaves are large, about a foot long, and are tapered or rounded at the end depending on the variety. They grow in spirals at the end of branches. The flowers appear in the middle of the leaf clusters. They are five-petaled, large and waxy.

The Temple Tree

Ability to bloom even after being uprooted

Bark is grey-coloured, when pierced a milky fluid oozes out

Looks pale during the leafless phase

Tree transforms during the flowering stage

Used widely for medicinal purposes

Of the two common varieties in India – the Alba is white with a yellow centre and the Rubra is deep pink, with white petals. The flower was a favourite of Mughal Emperor Jahangir who described it in The Jahangirnama as “a flower of increasingly sweet fragrance, it has the shape of a saffron flower but is yellow inclining to white. The tree is very symmetrical and large, full of branches and is shady. When in flower one tree will perfume a garden”.

The tree has the ability to bloom even after being uprooted. Because of this ability it has become a symbol of immortality and is planted by both Buddhists and Muslims next to the tombs of their dead. One of its common names is the Graveyard tree. Due to it being a symbol of immortality the wood of the tree is used by Buddhists to carve the image of the Buddha.

A perfume is distilled from the leaves of the Temple tree. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

In Hinduism it is considered to be one of the holiest of trees and is planted near temples (hence the common name the Temple Tree). The flowers of the tree are offered to the gods. It is sacred to Kamadeva, the God of Love, and is considered inauspicious to cut it.

The tree is used widely by humans – a perfume is distilled from its leaves, the root-bark is a strong purgative, and the milky juice is used in the treatment of rheumatism and skin diseases by mixing it with coconut oil. The bark is used in the treatment of diarrhea.

In Bengaluru, the Temple tree can be found at the premises of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, near the King’s statue on Cubbon Road, Manipal Centre on Dickenson Road and the premises of the Karnataka High Court.

There is a legend associated with the Champa tree. Long ago there was a king with two wives. The older wife was unable to bear children and conspired to kill all the children borne by the younger wife. She substituted a monkey for the new-born children and over the years seven sons and a daughter met the same fate. All of them were buried outside the palace wall and the younger queen was banished from the palace.

As the years passed seven handsome trees with beautiful fragrant flowers grew outside the palace walls. Along with these seven there was one smaller, delicate tree. The fame of the trees grew within the kingdom and it was said that only the younger queen could pluck their flowers.

The King heard about this and asked his gardener to bring him some flowers. When the gardener returned empty handed the King along with the older Queen went to see them. As the older Queen approached the branches of the trees drew back sharply and the cry ‘Murderer’ was heard. Astounded the King went up to the trees, and their leaves nuzzled his face and they asked him to bring their mother to them. When the King enquired about their mother he was told the truth. The older Queen was banished from the kingdom and the younger Queen reinstated. The trees were brought up as their children. The large tree was the Champa and the delicate one Parul.


  1. Deepa Mohan says:

    Lovely blend of mythology and facts…but I thought the Champa was the Sampige tree.

    I love the Plumeria at all times; I think it looks so beautiful…and added plus…it’s a great tree for children to climb!

  2. Vikram Nanjappa says:

    These are the common names for Plumeria – Champa, Frangipani and Pagoda tree; Khera chapha or Pandhra chapha in Marathi, Chameli or Gulechin in Hindi, Kath champa in Bengali, Rhada Champo in Gujarati, Arali in Tamil.

    The Sampige tree ( Michelia champaca ) is called Champak.

  3. Usha Srinath says:

    You forgot to mention the Kannada name 🙁

    ‘Deva kanigale’

    Isaw that at the Buddha tooth temple in Kandy, water lilies and frangipanis were the only flowers being offered..the pooja baskets loomed so pretty.11

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

பறவைகள் பலவிதம், ஒவ்வொன்றும் ஒருவிதம்

Five months after the oil spill caused grave damage to Ennore Creek, birds, animals and fisherfolk are still suffering the effects.

பறவை அப்படினு நாம சொன்னதும் பறவைகள் எல்லாம் சுதந்திரமா எங்கவேண்ணாலும் போகலாம்,என்ன வேண்ணாலும் சாப்பிடலாம்னு பல கருத்து இருந்து வருது. இந்த உலகம் நமக்கானது மட்டுமேனு செயல்படுற ஆறு அறிவுகொண்ட மனிதர்களால அண்மைக்காலமா பறவைகள் படுற கஷ்டத்தை கொஞ்சம் சொல்லலாம்னு இந்த கட்டுரைய எழுத ஆரம்பிச்சேன். பறவை * குமரிஅம் பெருந்துறை அயிரை மாந்தி வடமலைப் பெயர்குவை ஆயின் * நம்ம வீட்டுக்கிட்ட இருக்க மரம், ஓடை, ஏரி , குளம், கடல், மலை, குன்று என எந்த இடமா இருந்தாலும், நாம பறவைகள பார்க்க முடியும், கருப்பு, சிவப்பு, சின்னது, பெருசு  அப்படி எந்த வேறுபாடும் இல்லாம ஒரே இடத்துல பல பறவைகள நம்மளால பார்க்க முடியும். இந்த மாதிரி என்னுடைய சின்ன வயசுல வேடந்தாங்கல் பறவைகள் சரணாலயம் போனப்போ தான் பல்லாயிரம் பறவைகளை பார்த்தேன். அட இவளோ அழகா இருக்கே, இவங்க எல்லாம் எங்க இருந்து வராங்க?, உணவு…

Similar Story

Soaring temperatures, surging power demand: What you can do in this scenario

Intense summers cause a spike in power demand, leading to rampant load shedding. A look at why and how such demand must be managed.

India has seen the worst of summer this year, with temperatures breaking records in many parts of the country. Among various other impacts, high temperatures have also caused a surge in power demand in cities. This has not only created issues in terms of frequent power outages, but has also increased carbon emissions as the demands are met.  Read more: Scorched cities: Documenting the intense Indian summer of 2024  India’s power consumption increased by over 8% to 127.79 billion units (BU) in February 2024. The highest supply in a day rose to 222 gigawatts (GW) in the same month. The Ministry…