The Golden Shower Flower and the Cannas Lilly
It’s winter in Thailand, but it’s not the winter with ice, snow and bare trees that most foreigners are used to seeing. On the contrary, if you drive down any highway outside the city your eyes will most likely be greeted by rows and rows of lovely yellow flowers.
December is not the season for red and green here in Thailand but it’s the season for yellow instead. Bright yellow from two types of seasonal flowers, both of which have significance during this winter season.
Right now, the flower you’re likely to see the most is the Golden Shower flower. A lovely bright flower that grows on the Cassia Fistula (or Golden Shower) tree. They bloom in such great numbers that sometimes it’s impossible to see the green leaves of the tree. They hang in clusters, like bunches of golden grapes swaying in the breeze.
Another flower which is equally important, but less well-known, is the Canna Lily. It’s the official flower of Father’s Day in Thailand, but you probably will not see it used or displayed much even during this festive time of year. This may in part be due to the fact that one doesn’t usually give flowers to their father, or men in general. Men are usually seen as the rougher, more gruff of the two sexes which makes the way we show our affections for our father different from how we show our affections with our mothers. Come National Mother’s Day (August 12) you’ll see the White Jasmine flower used and displayed all over. It’s the official flower of Thai Mother’s Day and it’s popular to give a white jasmine flower to one’s mother on this day. But, since it’s not a custom to give flowers to one’s father, the Canna Lily is little thought of or used nowadays.
Both of these tropical Christmastime flowers hold a special position in Thai culture. The Golden Shower flower is the national flower of Thailand and the Canna Lily is the official flower of the Thai Monarchy. They are truly fitting national and royal symbols as the copious amount of flowers per tree (of the Golden Shower flower) can only bring to mind thoughts prosperity and longevity. The bright golden color of both inspires us with thoughts of wealth and good fortune. It’s like a wish as well as a symbol. A wish that both the King and country will prosper and never be found wanting or lacking.
Besides the ornamental beauty of the Cassia Fistula, it is also used in many herbal medicines as well. Various parts of the tree are used to make disease-fighting and purgative medicines. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine the Cassia Fistula is called “aragvadha,” meaning “disease killer.” The pulp of the tree can be used to make a very effective laxative and can kill worms in the intestines as well. Other parts of the tree and flower are used to make natural medicines capable of reducing swelling and fighting harmful bacteria. In traditional Southeast Asian and Indian medicine, almost every part of this plant is used to make an herbal remedy of some type or another. Hence, there is another good reason for choosing this tree as the national tree of Thailand. Not only is it lovely to see, adorned with countless flowers which dazzle the eye and enchant the senses, but it’s naturally resistant to pests and harmful bacteria. So, like this tree, we hope that Thailand will be free from corruption and enemies who wish to do her harm. The Golden Shower tree is indeed a most fitting choice for a national symbol.
The other golden flower worth mentioning in this winter season is the yellow Canna Lilly. This flower, unlike the Cassia Fistula, grows from a bulb deep in the earth. The flower blossoms from a tall, rod-like stalk which can grow to be 1-2 meters in height. From the United States to Zimbabwe, varieties of this flower can be grown just about anywhere where there’s a temperate climate and adequate sunshine. Colors range from bright reds to warm oranges to yellows to pinks and even white. It has no medicinal properties for humans but the plant itself is remarkably resistant to most pests and bacteria. If planted in a polluted wetland, the plant will help filter and remove harmful wastes in the environment. The fibers of the stalk can be used to make paper and the seeds can be used to produce a purple dye.
It is the golden yellow variety of this flower which holds a special place in Thai culture. It is the flower of His Majesty the King of Thailand’s royal birthday and the Father’s Day Flower. Thus it is the special flower used as a symbol of the King and all good fathers every December 5, which is both His Majesty the King’s birthday and National Thai Father’s Day.
It seems to be a suitable royal symbol as the flower shoots out of a tall stalk which brings to mind a king’s royal scepter. Even the English name “Canna” comes from a Celtic word which translates to “cane” or “reed.” The Thai name is Dawk Phuttaraksa. The word “phuttaraksa” roughly translates to “the care a lord or leader has for his subjects.” (The word “dawk” means “flower.”)
In the West, December may be a time for red flowers and evergreen trees but here in Thailand it’s the season for showers of golden petals and thoughts of love for King and country.
Happy Father’s Day and long live the King!