Simsapa, the tree of nobility

by G.S.UNNIKRISHNAN, The Hindu, Jan 21, 2008

Amherstia nobilis is suitable for avenue planting as well as landscape gardening

New Delhi, India -- Amherstia nobilis, locally known as Simsapa, is one of the sacred trees of India. It belongs to the family Caesalpiniaceae.

<< Noble tree, the Simsapa

Simsapa was found in a temple garden in Burma in 1826 and hence famously known by the name ‘Pride of Burma.’ The generic name Amherstia comes from Countess Amherst, wife of a former governor of Burma.

The species name nobilis’ comes from the noble honour bestowed on the tree. The flowers are given a special place in Buddhist temples in Burma and Sri Lanka. Simsapa is rarely seen in India.

The Simsapa is a beautiful tree which grows up to 12 metres in height. It is suitable for avenue planting as well as landscape gardening.

A hot humid climate is preferred, and it will not grow well in dry arid regions. The soil should be rich. Propagation is usually by air layering. They are divided into about six pairs of oppositely placed leaflets. The tender leaves are mauve to purple in colour and later become bright green.

Flowering occurs between February and May. Petals are crimson red with two medium-sized petals yellow at the tip. The largest petal is broad and fan-shaped with a wavy upper margin and a yellow triangle extending from the lip down into the flower. This tree of beauty and rarity deserves further attention by tree lovers and gardeners.

Scriptural reference to the Simsapa leaves

From the Simsapa Sutta (PTS: SN 56.31; S v 437, CDB ii 1857; Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the simsapa forest. Then, picking up a few simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord.

Those overhead in the forest are far more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.