Flowering Plants of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s mix of lowland tropical climate and cool hill country temperatures makes for successful propagation of different varieties of stunning flowering plant species.

Sri Lanka’s flowers have been immortalized in age-old paintings and pre-Christian records. Professor S. R. Kottegoda, author of the book Flowers of Sri Lanka, writes that the most ancient painting of a flower found in Sri Lanka, that of the sacred lotus, dates back to the 3rd century. It is found in Pothgalkanda, a hill in Kandalama, not far from Sigiriya Rock, where visitors may view the second oldest extant flower painting, that of a temple flower (frangipani), circa 5/6th century. And when Ibn Battuta, the famous medieval traveler from Tangier, Morocco, visited 14th century Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and trekked up its holy mountain, Adam’s Peak, he noted the abundance of gemstones, monkeys and “flowers of diverse colours.”

Results of a recent World Bank biodiversity project, on conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants in Sri Lanka, show that the country “holds more than 3,350 flowering species,” of which “500 of these native flora” are utilized in traditional medicine. Twenty-three per cent of these flowering species are endemic to the country.

Visitors arriving in Sri Lanka, at any time of the year, will right away notice her vibrant, green surroundings and her display of lots and lots of flowers, giving the newcomers a very warm, scintillating, eternal springtime welcome. The drive from the Bandaranaike International Airport to any destination inland means passing by yellow or purple-flowered climbers, sweet-scented jasmine and meter-high hibiscus shrubs, sturdy amaryllis flower stalks, serene-looking lotus ponds, crimson-covered fountain trees, patches of dainty periwinkle and cosmos, spreading yellow cassia, drooping pink fuchsias, striking fishpole heliconias, curly banana blossoms, pompoms of hydrangeas, rows of boat lilies or lovely Ceylon ironwood trees.

Along the coast, near streams or floating on water, budding botanists will find the purple-flowered kangkong, a variety of convolvulus that’s popular as a vegetable here and in other countries like the Philippines, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Coconuts abound in the area, showing off their inflorescence the whole year round. A leisurely boat ride around mangrove forests (kiralakele) allow for amazing close-up photographs of mangrove flowers and other flora found thriving within this coastal environment system.

Some of the most dazzling blooms seen around the country, which could really make an avid photographer click away endlessly, are those of the Sacred Lotus (Nelumbium nelumbo), the Blue Water Lily or Nil Mahanel, the national flower of Sri Lanka (Nymphaea stellata), the Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milli), Onion flowerheads (Allium cepa), Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Flame of the Woods (Ixora coccinea), Frangipani (Plumeria acuminata), shimmering Flamingo flowers (Anthurium andreanum rubrum) and of course, walls and walls of multicolored Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp).

With flowers in great abundance, Sri Lanka has become an emerging entity in the floriculture business, with large-scale producers aiming at foreign buyers, and middle-level growers catering to the local market. A number of flower cultivators in the villages sell their produce to the first two big suppliers.

According to D. M. U. B. Dhanasekera, Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya, in his article for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the main constraints that may prevent the country’s cut-flower suppliers from progressing are “high cost of air cargo, lack of facilities for research and development, lack of trained personnel, lack of improved system of marketing, the uneconomical size of the floriculture industry, lack of information on pesticides” and getting certification for “phytosanitary clearance,” which is an expensive process. But with policy changes and government bodies like the Ministry of Agriculture and the Export Development Board coming together with the country’s existing floricultural associations, Sri Lanka may be well on its way to success in the very competitive world of cut-flower ventures.

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