Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (PROSEA)
- Protologue: Sp. Pl. 1: 6 (1753).
- Family: Oleaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n= 44
- Nyctanthes dentata Blume (1849).
- Night jasmine, coral jasmine, tree of sadness (En)
- Indonesia: srigading (Sundanese, Javanese)
- Malaysia: seri gading
- Laos: salikaa
- Thailand: kannikaa, karanikaa
- Vietnam: dzahoa, lài tàu.
Origin and geographic distribution
Night jasmine is native to the subtropical Himalayas of Nepal and India, and is probably introduced in the more southern parts of India, and in South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world.
Night jasmine certainly came into use as a dye early. The bright orange corolla tubes of the flowers contain a saffron-yellow colouring matter, which was formerly used for dyeing silk, sometimes in conjunction with safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.), turmeric (Curcuma longa L.), and indigo (Indigofera spp.). Locally the dye is also used for dyeing cotton cloth and as a cheap substitute for saffron in colouring the robes of Buddhist priests.
The essential oil in the fragrant flowers, which is similar to the oil in jasmine, is used as perfume. The bark may be used as a tanning material, and the leaves are sometimes used for polishing wood and ivory. In India, Indonesia (Java) and Malaysia, the flowers are used medicinally to provoke menstruation. The bitter leaves are useful against fevers, rheumatism and as an anthelmintic. In Java, an extract of the leaves is sometimes used as a tonic, and in India it is reported useful as cholagogue, laxative, diaphoretic and diuretic, and an extract is given to children for the expulsion of roundworms and threadworms. An anti-inflammatory activity of the leaves of night jasmine has been recorded recently, and an insecticidal effect of an extract from shade-dried leaves has been reported. Powdered seeds ameliorate scalp scurf.
Night jasmine is often planted near Hindu temples in India and Sri Lanka, as well as in Malaysia and Indonesia. The fallen flowers are collected, strung into garlands, and esteemed as votive offerings. It is also planted in hedges. The wood is sometimes used for boarding, and as firewood.
The dye is nyctanthin, allied to crocetin from saffron (Crocus sativus L.). The flowers also contain an abundance of mannitol. Substances found in the leaves include mannitol, ß-amyrin, ß-sitosterol, benzoic acid and derivates of kaempferol. The seeds contain about 15% of a pale yellow-brown oil, nyctanthic acid and ß-sitosterol, and the bark contains a glycoside and alkaloids, suspected of being poisonous to animals and humans.
The wood is fairly heavy, averaging 880 kg/m3, brown, close-grained and moderately hard.
- A large shrub or small tree up to 10 m tall. Bark scabrous, grey. Branches spreading, rough, twigs tetragonal, scabrous.
- Leaves decussately opposite, ovate, (4-)6-12 cm × 2-6.5(-9) cm, cuneate to subcordate at base, acute or acuminate at apex, margin entire or with a few teeth, very scabrous above with bulbous-based hairs, pubescent beneath, shortly petiolate.
- Flowers in axillary or terminal, bracteate cymes consisting of 2-7-flowered corymbs, with quadrangular, slender peduncle, fragrant and sessile; calyx campanulate, about 5 mm long; corolla with a cylindric, orange tube and 5-8 spreading, imbricate and more or less contorted, white lobes, 5-15 mm long; stamens 2, inserted near the top of the corolla tube; style about as long as the corolla tube, stigma obscurely bifid.
- Fruit a cordate to almost orbicular flat capsule, about 2 cm across, brown, 2-celled, opening transversely from the apex. Seeds 1 per cell, compressed.
The small genus Nyctanthes L. (1-2 species) is variously classified in the families Oleaceae and Verbenaceae, and sometimes together with the genus Dimetra Kerr. in a separate family Nyctanthaceae.
Some cultivars with ornamental value have been described in India, for instance "Karna-phool" and "Seeya Shrinagar".
In its native area night jasmine is found on rocky ground in dry hillsides, and as undergrowth in dry deciduous forest. It can be cultivated from sea-level up to 1500 m altitude at the equator, within a wide range of rainfall patterns, from seasonal to non-seasonal. It tolerates moderate shade. The flowers open at sunset and usually wither after sunrise the next day.
Night jasmine is easily propagated by seeds or cuttings. It coppices readily and is not browsed by goats or cattle. A powdery mildew caused by Oidium spp., can do some damage to the foliage, but it can be controlled by dusting with sulphur. Plants are sometimes susceptible to leaf-spot and other diseases caused by fungi.
For dyeing, fabrics are immersed in a decoction of the corolla tubes. They impart a beautiful orange, yellow or golden colour like saffron, but the colour is easily washed out, and will fade rapidly in the sun. To make the colour more permanent, lime juice or alum is added to the dye bath. Then the colour is moderately resistant to light, soap, alkali and acid.
Apart from its religion-related function, it is worthwhile to investigate more thoroughly the many reported uses of night jasmine. The species is easy to cultivate in a very wide range of ecological circumstances.
- Corner, E.J.H., 1988. Wayside trees of Malaya. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. The Malayan Nature Society. United Selangor Press, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 602-603.
- Hegnauer, R., 1969. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen. Vol. 5. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel und Stuttgart. pp. 68, 232-233, 243, 443.
- Moldenke, H.N. & Moldenke, A.L., 1983. Nyctanthaceae. In: Dassanayake, M.D. & Fosberg, F.R. (Editors): A revised handbook to the Flora of Ceylon. Vol. 4. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. pp. 178-181.
- Sastri, B.N. (Editor), 1966. The wealth of India. Raw materials. Vol. 7. Publications & Information Directorate, Council of Industrial and Scientific Research, New Delhi. pp. 69-70.