||Medium-sized tree, up to 30m tall in the wild, usually shorter under cultivation. Habit distinctly monopodial, with dense conical crown. Form is lanky under more constrained rainforest conditions, but tree grown in open space tends to retain its lower branches all the way to the ground, hence assuming a hedge-like appearance, where the trunk remains totally hidden.
||Slightly buttressed at base. Bark grey-reddish brown, shallowly-fissured, flaking in large irregular pieces, somewhat scented, and exuding aromatic white resin when bruised.
||Leaves pendulous, linear-lanceolate, with slightly scalloped margins. Mature leaves dark green above and with whitish waxy bloom below. Young leaves emerge purplish-red, hanging in limps tassels, maturing to yellowish-pink and then green. Flushing is especially prominent during the rainy period (March, September or October) that follows dry months..
||Solitary, large (9cm across) and conspicuous, with 4 white fleshy petals surrounding a central core of yellow-orange filamentous stamens, very fragrant and bee-attracting. Flowers last only for 1 day, opening at 3-4am, becoming wide open at sunrise, and close 1 hour after sunset, while withered petals persist for a few more days. Blooming is seasonal, occurring mainly during dry weather (January to Feburary, June to August). Tree may burst into full bloom upon the onset of rain after a hot dry spell.
||Dehiscent valved ovoid capsule with woody sepals and numerous persistent basal filaments, ripening from green to brown. Seeds brown, irregularly-shaped, 1-4 per fruit.
||Moist lowland rainforests, associated with riverine sites.
||Slow-growing, especially when young. Provide some shade at sapling stage, after which full sun is ideal. Prefers moist, well-drained soils. Easily propagated by seeds (75-90% germination rate), which should be sown as soon as possible, for they lose viability within 2-3 months. Cutitngs not preferred, as the resulting plants tend to lack a deep taproot.
||Genus epithet 'Mesua' named after Persian physician and medical author, John Mesue (Yuḥannā ibn Masawiah, 786-857 A.D.), who translated Greek medical writings into Arabic, upon the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid who wanted to propagate ancient Greek medicine in the Islamic world. Mesue/ Masawiah's work sometimes wrongly attributed to his near-contemorary St. John of Damascus (Yuḥannā ibn Mansur, 676-749 A.D.), an Arab-Christian monk and church priest who served as chief administrator to the Caliph of Damascus -- because the first Latin translators of Mesue/ Masawiah's works wrongly rendered his last name as Mansur. Species epithet 'ferrea' derived from Latin term for iron, a reference to the tree's very heavy hardwood, which is so dense that it sinks in water even after being dried.Sanskrit-derived Malay name Penaga Lilin refers to the waxy bloom on the underside of leaves. Also commonly known as Na Tree or Diya Na in Sri Lanka, where Diya Na roughly transliterates to "water bathed", an apt reference to the tree's riverine habitat in the wild. In Singapore, sometimes mistakenly referred to as Sembawang Tree, but this instead refers to Mesua ferruginea (Ironwood Tree, a small riverine tree distributed across Southeast Asia.
||Food (Herb and Spice)
[Others]: Timber: Source of heavy hardwood (Penanga) with high density and durability similar to ebony, and dark reddish-brown heartwood. Used for heavy construction, railway sleepers, boat building, agricultural implements and tool handles. Trunks often used to make power transmission and telegraphic posts.
Medicinal: Plant parts possess anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-hemorrhagic and anthelmintic (deworming) properties, traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. Seed kernel or flower stamens pounded with seed oil, and used as poultice for wounds and bleeding control. Seed oil also used to relieve skin itch, dandruff and rheumatism. Leaves used to treat fever, sore eyes and leprosy. Fresh flowers used to improve digestion and as cough remedy. Dried flowers used to treat bleeding hemorrhoids. In Malaysia and Java, decoction made from dried flowers given as tonic to women after childbirth. Roots said to be an antidote for poisonous snakebites.
Products: Flowers used for their fragrance in perfumery (Nagchampa perfume), incense, cosmetics and soaps. Aromatic flower stamens once used to stuff pillows and cushions for bridal beds. Seeds yield up to 79% oil, which is extracted for lighting and perfumery.
Culture: Regarded as highly-sacred in India, and declared as Sri Lanka's national tree in Feburary 1986. Oldest man-made forest in Sri Lanka is the 96-ha National Ironwood Forest, which consists of mainly Mesua ferrea descended from trees planted during King Dappula IV's reign in 8th century A.D. Buddhists believe that the next Buddha (Maitreya) will attain enlightenment under this tree, and Maitreya is traditionally depicted with a Mesua ferrea flower. Flowers given as offerings and seed oil used for lighting lamps in Buddhist temples.