by Alex Butova, the Witch of Herbs and Cats
Alexandra Butova is our columnist, journalist, and photographer, living in Riga, Latvia. She has has been with TopTropicals since Day One (2002), writing about magic plants, travel, and of course cats - from the CatNation she belongs to. Alex is in charge of TopTropicals.ru website.
...Champaka, or Joy Perfume Tree, is regarded as one of the most sacred trees of India and tropical Asia. Its flowers exude a divine fragrance that is exceedingly pleasing to the Gods... and women!..
This small beautiful tree is mentioned in numerous folk tales in Asia. In India its graceful fragrant flowers were dedicated to the gods from ancient times. According to the legend, this golden flower became a symbol and personification of the Great Goddess Lakshmi after the Lord of Love Kama presented these flowers to her with the words: “To the One Who is The Most Beautiful”. Lakshmi liked the gift, and she decorated her hair with one of the flowers. "What flower is it?" the goddess said. "This is Champaka, my Lady" - Kama replied…
This bright golden flower resembling the star was from Magnolia (Michelia) champaca tree... And here is the story of the plant.
Champaka is one of the Magnolias. Magnolia genus is one of the oldest among other plants genera, and may be called an ancient genus. Fossilized Magnolia flowers along with the bugs (main pollinators of this plant), were discovered in rocks dating around 100 million years old. Magnolias are considered to be indigenous to two main areas: Himalayas foot of North China and Gulf Coast of Mexico and Central America. These are the places magnolias started their victorious parade of inhabiting countries and continents.
It is a historical genus of flowering plants belonging to the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). The genus includes about 50 species of evergreen trees and shrubs, native to tropical and subtropical South and Southeast Asia (Indomalaya), including southern China. Primarily the genus was named Michelia after the Florentine botanist Pietro Antonio Micheli (1679–1737). Today Michelia is regarded as a synonym of Magnolia.
Magnolia (Michelia) champaca, known as Golden Champaka, Joy Perfume Tree, is a beautiful evergreen tree. In a wild it grows in tropical and subtropical areas as a medium size tree reaching about 20-30 ft depending on conditions. In cultivation it grows to the size of a small tree 15-20 ft tall, and can be easily maintained in a large container.
Golden Champaka has strongly fragrant flowers in varying shades of cream to yellow-orange which bloom from June to September. The obovoid ellipsoid carpels produce 2−4 seeds from Fall through early Spring.
One single flower of the Joy Perfume Tree, relatively small (2.5-3 inches), fills the air with delicately sweet fragrance. Champaka's flowers have a penetrating, smooth and rich aroma that is reminiscent of fruity bubble gum, spices, and a floral note that is often compared to orange blossom. On a warm humid night, the scent of flowering tree can easily be enjoyed several hundred feet away. If you drive nearby, you will notice the scent immediately. People and every insect you can imagine are attracted to the blooms. These are flowers you don't have to "stick your nose in" as the scent exudes from the tree. However, you really can't stop sticking your nose into a flower over and over again!
Nectar insects appear frantic, driven like drug addicts, bashing into each other to get to the heart of every flower on the tree. The fragrant flowers also attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Champaka is regarded as one of the most sacred trees of India and tropical Asia. Its flowers exude a divine fragrance that is exceedingly pleasing to the Gods... and women. The flowers are used in Southeast Asia for several purposes. Especially in India, they are primarily used for worship at temples, whether at home or out, and more generally worn in hair by girls and women as a beauty ornament as well as a natural perfume. The flowers are used for decoration and their alluring scent is employed as a natural aphrodisiac perfume. Flowers are floated in bowls of water to scent the room, as a fragrant decoration for bridal beds, and for garlands.
The tree was traditionally used to make fragrant hair and massage oils. Jean Patou’s famous perfume, 'Joy', the second bestselling perfume in the world after Chanel No. 5, (but definitely the most expensive number one!) is derived from the essential oils of champaka flowers. The plant common name "Joy Perfume Tree" comes from this perfume. Many niche perfumers are now once again using Champaka Absolute as single note fragrances.
The white variety Magnolia (Michelia) Alba is a cross between Magnolia champaca and Magnolia Montana. It
Magnolia Alba is a tall, evergreen tree with creamy white flowers 3 inches across with a delicious sweet fragrance also resembling a juicy fruit chewing gum. The flowers start emitting the perfume early in the morning; the fragrance becoming more intense during late afternoon and by night fills in the entire space around. Michelia Alba is a symbol of one of the largest cities in the world Shanghai, the Capital of economic zone of China.
Magnolia champaca also possesses medicinal properties. Leaf and seed extracts shows fungicidal and antibacterial activity. In Ayurveda, the plant is mentioned to detoxify poisons, worm infestations, increases digestive power, works as diuretic and cures fever. Flowers reduce burning sensation, cure skin disease, even leprosy and ulcer...
Champaka Tree, can be grown in warm climates as a special garden specimen. In cooler climates these plants cultivated in a greenhouse or sunroom. It can be easily moved indoors for summer in a large container, turning your home into a soothing oasis.
Planting a Golden Champaka really makes your home a sweet home. Also you can take the flower into your car, office, restroom, and anywhere you want to create fragrant atmosphere. It emits a unique warm fragrance which promotes a peaceful state of mind, reduces stress and helps you to relax and breathe easily. Looks like it is specially designed for moments of tranquil contemplation. It’s the nature of Champaka - to remind us of the Divine in all things...