Tropical Flowers

Flame of the Forest Tree – Characteristics, Cultural Associations, Medicinal Uses

The arid, wide woodlands and grasslands of Central India, the Deccan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, ranging across Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and western Indonesia, are home to the Flame of the Forest, an attractive flower that produces shellac.

It usually grows to a height of 10 to 15 m (30 to 50 ft), but it can also be shorter or higher, and its pace of growth can be sluggish or moderate, depending on the growing environment. The crown is of irregular shape, ranging from columnar to wide-spreading, and is normally supported by the trunk, typically slender or crooked with rough, cracked, grey, or light brown bark.

The leaves are huge and compound, with three sizable leaflets, each up to 20 cm (8 in) long, wide oval, and rounded at the tip. When young, they have light green, delicate hair, and as they age, they have dark green, coarse hair. They separate and fall to the ground to preserve water during the dry season, leaving the branches barren and making them appear twisted and crooked.

During the changeover to the rainy season, the new leaves appear and gradually cover the growing branches. The blooms in clusters of claw-shaped, fire-orange to crimson flowers before the emergence of the new leaves create a beautiful show heightened by their contrast with the leafless branches.

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Flat, green seedpods up to 12 cm (5 in) long with a layer of soft, felt-like hairs accompany fertilized blooms. They hang in groups from the terminals of the branches, maturing to a yellow-brown color with a solitary brown seed inside.

Flame of the Forest Characteristics

The Flame of the Forest, also known as Butea monosperma or Palash, is a tree species native to tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia and Southeast Asia. This tree is known for its striking orange and vermilion flowers that bloom from January to March, which is why it is also known as the “tree of flame.”

One of the most notable characteristics of the Flame of the Forest is its size. It can grow to be a medium to large-sized tree, reaching up to 20 meters in height. The tree’s trunk is relatively short and has a smooth, grey bark. Additionally, the tree has root-like buttresses that help support its structure.

The Flame of the Forest crown is broad and umbrella-shaped, adorned with fine, delicate, lacy foliage. The tree leaves are pinnate, which means they are arranged in a feather-like pattern. The leaves are typically 2-4 inches long and have a glossy green color.

The flowers of the Flame of the Forest are the most striking feature of the tree. They are typically orange or vermilion and are massed down the ends of the stalks. The flowers bloom from January to March, covering the entire crown of the tree, making it a truly spectacular sight.

The Flame of the Forest is known by other common names such as Palash and Bastard teak. It is considered sacred by Hindus and is cherished for its profusion of vibrant blossoms. It is also grown worldwide as a decorative plant. The tree is slow-growing, but it produces lovely specimen trees.

Cultural Associations

According to Hindu legend, the tree is said to have sprung from a falcon’s feather that was infused with soma and is believed to have originated from the right side of Yama’s body. This tree is revered by both Hindus and Buddhists, with the legend that Queen Mahamaya grabbed a limb from this tree as soon as her son, Gautam Buddha, was born.

In West Bengal, it is associated with spring, as it is often likened to fire in poetry and songs, such as those of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The flower has become an integral part of the celebration of spring in Santiniketan, where Tagore and Vishalnarayan lived. The plant has given Palashi, a town famous for the historic Battle of Plassey, its name. In the state of Jharkhand, Palash is associated with folk tradition and is often described as the forest fire in literary expressions.

The beauty of the dry deciduous forests of Jharkhand reaches its peak when most trees have shed their leaves, and the Flame of the Forest is in full bloom.

The Use of Flame of the Forest

It is a magnificent flowering tree that produces blooms that last four to six weeks and provide a plentiful supply of nectar for insects and birds that feed on nectar. In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, honeybees rely heavily on it as a source of nectar, but little is known about the honey’s actual composition, including its color, flavor, texture, and yield per colony.

The blooms extract a temporary red-orange dye that is water soluble but fades on textiles after just a few washes. Hindu worshipers use it more frequently to make red marks on their foreheads.

The Lac insect (Kerria lacca), a sucking insect that attaches in huge numbers to the young stems to feed on the sap and excretes a sticky resin from their bodies as they feast, is a key host species for the Flame of the Forest.

Shellac is periodically gathered and processed into a high-gloss, natural varnish sold under the same name. The Shellac is combined with a solvent, like alcohol, to create the varnish, which is used to varnish wood, particularly expensive antique furniture and musical instruments. It is also utilized to give nail polish its shine and durable coating features, as well as a waxy coating for hard sweets, medicines, fruit, and nail paint.

It is traded as “Bengal Kino” or “Palas Gum” and harvested when dried and solidified on the tree. Ruby-red gum is secreted from the stems when they are damaged. Astringent qualities of this brittle, water-soluble gum have led to its use in traditional Indian or Ayurvedic medicine to treat conditions like acid reflux, indigestion, diarrhea, and dysentery, mostly as a replacement for Kino Gum (from Pterocarpus marsupium). Additionally, it is recommended as a douche for vaginitis and a gargle for throat conditions.


It thrives in sub-humid to humid subtropical and tropical climates, typically in regions with yearly lows of 16 to 25°C, highs of 25 to 35°C, annual rainfall of 500 to 4500 mm, and a dry season of 4 to 8 months.


Most new plants are propagated from seed, which is best obtained from recently harvested, mature seedpods and lose viability after only a few months. It functions best in deep clay and loam soils that are moderately acidic to slightly alkaline, often with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and in locations that receive direct sunlight all day.

Problem Features

The numerous thin seedpods are dry and lightweight when ripe, making them easily disseminated by the wind, which can carry them far. Additionally, suckers sent up from the roots are known to regenerate readily. Despite its extensive distribution in non-native locations, usually as a decorative, there does not seem to be any record of it anywhere as a major weed. During the dry season, spent flowers and leaf debris fall to the ground, creating a carpet of trash.

Medicinal Uses

The Flame of the Forest is a medicinal herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to manage various ailments.

The bark of the plant is applied externally to treat wounds and cuts.

The seeds contain a compound called palaosin, which is used to treat worm infestations and has a laxative effect.

The gum from the tree can be used to treat dysentery and diarrhea.

The dried flowers are used as a natural dye in bathing to treat skin rashes and infections during the summer.

The flowers are rich in sulfur, which makes them an effective treatment for skin ailments, as they purify and cleanse the bloodstream of free radicals.

The paste of the flowers is also applied externally to treat joint pains, swelling, sprains, injuries, and arthritis.

The bark of the tree also has blood-purifying properties.

The concoction made from the flowers is beneficial for impotence and menstrual cramps.

The fruits and seeds of the plant are used to treat skin ulcers, piles, and eye disorders such as cataracts.

The roots of the Palash tree are used as an analgesic to cure night blindness.

Other Uses

Ornamental: The Flame of the Forest is widely grown as an ornamental plant due to its vibrant and striking orange and vermilion flowers.

Timber: The tree is often harvested for its hardwood, and used for construction, furniture, and other wood products.

Dye: The flowers and leaves of the tree are used to produce a red dye that is used in textiles and other materials.

Fuel: The tree’s wood is used as a fuel source, either firewood or charcoal.

Soil stabilization: The Flame of the Forest is used to stabilize soil in areas prone to erosion and landslides.

Reforestation: The tree is also used in reforestation projects to restore degraded land.

Ecosystem services: The tree provides important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil conservation, and wildlife habitat.


Average in height, twisted, and leafless at the start of the dry season, this flower gets its English name, “flame of the forest,” from the spectacular, vivid orange blossoms that cover it in February. Five petals make up each flower: one regular, two tiny wings, and two additional petals that curl into the shape of a beak or claw. The 10-15 cm pods are green, pendulous, and flat; from a distance, one would mistake them for leaves. The large, trifoliate leaves emerge in April or May.


What is Flame of the Forest used for?

Flame-of-the-forest is a versatile plant with a rich cultural and medicinal heritage. This slow-growing species, indigenous to the tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia and Southeast Asia, is widely used for various purposes.

Traditional medicine uses leaves, bark, and root to treat various ailments such as fever, skin diseases, and wounds. In Ayurvedic medicine, the plant is believed to have rejuvenating properties and is used to boost energy and vitality.

Furthermore, Butea monosperma is also utilized as a dye. The tree’s flowers produce a deep orange dye, which is used to color silk and cotton fabrics. Additionally, its wood is highly valued for its strength and durability, making it ideal for construction, furniture, and carving.

In Hindu culture, the Flame of the Forest is considered sacred and is used in religious ceremonies. It’s also planted in gardens and parks as an ornamental plant because of its beautiful orange and vermilion flowers that bloom from January to March.

In short, Flame of the Forest is an incredibly versatile plant with a wide range of uses that range from medicinal to decorative. It’s a true treasure of the natural world.

What does Flame of the Forest symbolize?

Flame of the Forest symbolizes happiness, prosperity and festivity.

What is the family of Butea monosperma?

Butea monosperma belongs to the family Fabaceae, also known as the legume family. This family is known for its diverse group of plants that are important for food, medicine, and ornamental uses. The Fabaceae family includes well-known plants such as peas, beans, and acacia.