The Sacred Ashoka Tree – Uses & Stories

As a small tree with colorful blooms, Ashoka is one of the best to grow in households. Its compact size is well-suited for gardens as well. Its scientific name is Saraca asoca and it belongs to the family Fabaceae.

Ashoka Tree - Sita Ashok - Saraca asoca
Photos of Ashoka Tree from Kerala

Important Details

Plant Type: Evergreen Tree
Family: Fabaceae
Scientific name: Saraca asoca

Height: 6 to 9 meters
Flowers: orange-red, thick clusters
Flowering: February – May
Leaves: Pinnate, 30cm long

Common Names:
English: Ashoka Tree
Hindi: Ashok, Sita Ashok
Sanskrit: Hemapushpam

Main uses: for medicines, ornamental

Ashoka Tree - Sita Ashok - Saraca asoca
The flower cluster

Religious Beliefs & Stories

Moreover, Ashoka tree is believed to be sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism. There are several mentions about this auspicious tree in epics and stories. One such story is from Ramayana. After Ravana abducted Sita Devi, she insisted to stay in Ashokavani under a tree rather than going to Ravana’s palace. However, Ezhuthachan Ramayanam tells that Sita sat under a Shimshipa tree which is actually Amherstia nobilis. Anyway, it is believed that staying under the tree helped Sita to overcome her grief while in captivity.

Based on the story, it is considered auspicious to plant the tree near houses as a-shoka means removing sorrow. However, some people believe the opposite also. Since Sita sat under the tree during her time of sorrow it is not good to plant it near homes.

Flowers of Ashoka Tree - Sita Ashok
The pinnate leaves

Description

Ashoka is an evergreen tree with oblong leaflets and vibrant flower clusters. It grows to a height of 6 to 9 meters.

The pinnate leaves are almost 30 cm long with 4 to 6 pairs of leaflets. The leaflet is 12 cm long and 5 cm wide on average.

The flower lacks petals and occurs as clusters. The sometimes grow directly from the main stem. These thick clusters have a mix of red and orange colors. As they age the color gradually gets a shade of pink.

Even though the flower lacks the attractive sepals look like petals. They are four in number. There are 7 stamens which appear like hairs all around the flower cluster. The seed pod is 20 cm long and contains four to eight seeds. It looks similar to that of Mandaram plant.

Ashoka Tree - Sita Ashok - Saraca asoca
It takes more than 5 years to become mature
Flowers of Ashoka Tree
The flower clusters growing from the stem and branches
The seed pods

Medicinal Values

The bark and flowers of Ashoka has several medicinal values including the ability to cure many difficulties associated with female reproductive system.

Distribution & Habitat

As a native tree of south Asia, its distribution range is mainly south India and parts of southeast Asia including Myanmar. Although it is evergreen, now its numbers are less in the natural habitat. IUCN has included this tree under the Vulnerable category.

Because of its numerous medicinal values it is commercially cultivated in many places. The propagation is from seeds collected from mature plants during winter.

False Ashoka

There is another tree often mistook as Ashoka tree. Its scientific name is Polylathia longifolia. However, it has totally different looks compared to Saraca asoca.

Saraca indica

Often Saraca indica is treated as Ashoka although it is a different tree not usually found in India.

Additional Photos

 
Ashoka Tree
 
Ashoka Tree
 
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21 thoughts on “The Sacred Ashoka Tree – Uses & Stories

  1. this is beautiful..other ancient texts mentions Ashoka tree that it blossoms only when a virgin touches it with her feet. I think Amrapali and a few other have this story…

  2. Hi
    The photos are great and you did a splendid job of description.
    I want to grow these plants near Hyderabad. Is there any way you can collect some seeds and send it?

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