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Mesua ferrea L.

Family Name: Calophyllaceae
Synonyms: Calophyllum nagassarium, Calophyllum pedunculata, Calophyllum nagassarium, Calophyllum speciosa, Calophyllum coromandeliana
Common Name: Ceylon Ironwood, Na Tree, Diya Na, Nagchampa, Nagacuram, Nagasari, Ironwood Tree, Ironwood, Indian Rose Chestnut, Poached Egg Tree, Cobra's Saffron, Penaga Lilin, Penaga, Lenggapus, 铁力木, 铁木树
Full Sun: 6-8h Moderate Water Herb & Spice Roadside Tree / Palm Fragrant Ornamental Flowers Ornamental Foliage Tree


Family Name
Genus Epithet
Species Epithet
Name Authority
Common Names

Classifications and Characteristics

Plant Division Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants) (Dicotyledon)
Plant Growth Form Tree (Medium (16m-30m))
Lifespan (in Singapore) Perennial
Mode of Nutrition Autotrophic
Plant Shape Conical
Maximum Height 18 m to 30 m
Maximum Plant Spread / Crown Width 6 m to 12 m


Native Distribution India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indochina, Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia
Native Habitat Terrestrial (Primary Rainforest, Monsoon Forest)
Preferred Climate Zone Tropical, Sub-Tropical / Monsoonal

Description and Ethnobotany

Growth Form 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.
Trunk Slightly buttressed at base. Bark grey-reddish brown, shallowly-fissured, flaking in large irregular pieces, somewhat scented, and exuding aromatic white resin when bruised.
Foliage 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..
Flowers 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.
Fruits 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.
Habitat Moist lowland rainforests, associated with riverine sites.
Cultivation 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.
Etymology 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.
Ethnobotanical Uses 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.

Landscaping Features

Desirable Plant Features Fragrant (Flowers), Ornamental Flowers, Ornamental Foliage
Plant & Rootzone Preference - Tolerance Fertile Loamy Soils, Well-Drained Soils
Landscape Uses Roadside Tree / Palm, General, Shade Providing Tree / Palm
Thematic Landscaping Naturalistic Garden
SGMP Treatment
Usage Hazard - Cons Low Crown / Clearance

Fauna, Pollination and Dispersal

Pollination Method(s) Biotic (Fauna) (Insects (Bee))
Seed or Spore Dispersal Abiotic (Explosive Dehiscence)

Plant Care and Propagation

Light Preference Full Sun
Water Preference Moderate Water
Plant Growth Rate Slow
Maintenance Requirements Moderate
Propagation Method Seed, Stem Cutting
Propagule Establishment Remarks 75-90% seed germination success. Seeds need to sowed soon, as they lose viability within 2-3 months.
Propagation Method Remarks Stem cuttings not preferred, as resulting trees lack taproot


Foliage Retention Evergreen
Mature Foliage Colour(s) Green, Silver / Grey
Mature Foliage Texture(s) Smooth
Prominent Young Flush Colour(s) Red
Foliar Type Simple / Unifoliate
Foliar Arrangement Along Stem Opposite
Foliar Shape(s) Non-Palm Foliage (Lanceolate)
Foliar Venation Pinnate / Net
Foliar Margin Entire
Foliar Apex - Tip Acuminate
Foliar Base Cuneate
Typical Foliar Area Notophyll ( 20.25cm2 - 45 cm2 )
Leaf Area Index (LAI) for Green Plot Ratio 40 Tree Dense Canopy

Non - Foliar and Storage

Trunk Type (Non Palm) Woody
Bark Colour(s) Reddish-brown
Mature Bark Texture Fissured, Peeling / Flaking / Papery
Stem Type & Modification Woody
Root Type Underground (Tap Root, Fibrous Root), Aboveground (Buttress Root)

Floral (Angiosperm)

Flower & Plant Sexuality 1 Bisexual Flowers
Flower Colour(s) White, Yellow / Golden
Flower Symmetry Radial
Flower Size - Remarks 9cm across
Ovary Position Superior / Hypogynous
Flowering Period Hot & Dry Period
Flowering Opening Time Daytime
Flower Lifespan on Plant 1 Day
Flowering Habit Polycarpic

Fruit, Seed & Spore

Mature Fruit Colour(s) - Angiosperms and Gymnosperms Brown
Fruit Classification Simple Fruit
Fruit Type 1 Dehiscent Dry Fruit
Fruit Type 2 Capsule

Image Repository



Master ID 1730
Species ID 3023
Flora Disclaimer The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and NParks does not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for medicinal purposes.
Species record last updated on: 20 April 2020.