Thailand is one of the most biodiverse countries in Southeast Asia and its biogeographical region supports a variety of tropical ecosystems.
Despite being blessed with an abundance of wildlife and plant life, there are certain animal and plant species that are particularly cherished by the Thai people, as part of their national identity.
When thinking about iconic Thailand animals, you may already know about the significance of elephants in Thai culture, since they have had an important role throughout Thai history.
But, do you know what is the national flower of Thailand?
Although it was nominated to be listed as one of the symbols of Thailand in 1963, Ratchaphruek (also known as the golden shower) officially became Thailand’s national flower on October 26, 2001. It is also the national tree of Thailand.
This article will help you get to know all about Ratchaphruek – the Thai national flower (and tree) – from understanding its natural features to its importance in Thai culture.
6 Reasons Why the Golden Shower Flower Is the National Flower of Thailand
The Ratchaphruek flower was designated as one of the three national symbols of Thailand by the National Identity Committee in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and the Ministry of Education.
(The other two important symbols are the elephant as the national animal of Thailand and the Thai pavilion as the national architecture of Thailand.)
The Ratchaphruek flower was chosen to promote the image of Thailand for these 6 reasons:
1. It is a widely known native tree of Thailand and can be seen in every region of the country.
2. It can be used for a variety of purposes from using it as medicine to a house structure.
3. It is very strong, durable, and long-lasting.
4. Its yellow color flowers symbolize glory, harmony, and unity which is associated with Buddhism.
5. Its elegant yellow color flowers are the same color as the royal birthday (Monday’s color) of King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty. Therefore it was named “Ratchaphruek,” which means the royal tree.
6. Its background is related to many important traditions in Thailand and is also an auspicious tree that is commonly planted or used in some sacred places.
Get to Know the Ratchaphruek Flower and Tree
Ratchaphruek (ราชพฤกษ์) is the official Thai name that means “royal tree,” and there are also many local names that vary from the different regions of Thailand.
Here’s a complete list of names associated with the Ratchaphruek:
|Scientific Name||Cassia fistula Linn Kingdom: PlantaeClade: AngiospermsClass: DicotsOrder: FabalesFamily: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)Subfamily: CaesalpinioideaeGenus: CassiaSpecies: fistula|
|Common Name||Golden shower, Indian laburnum, Pudding-pipe tree|
|Common Thai Name||ราชพฤกษ์ (Ratchaphruek) means royal tree|
|Other Thai Name||Northeast of Thailand: คูน (Khun); Northern Thailand: ลมแล้ง (Lomlaeng); Southern Thailand: ราชพฤกษ์ (Ratchaphruek); Central Thailand: ราชพฤกษ์ (Ratchaphruek), ชัยพฤกษ์ (Chaiyapruek); Karen – Kanchanaburi Province: กุเพยะ (Kupheya); Karen – Mae Hong Son Province: ปีอยู (Phiyu), ปูโย (Phuyo), เปอโซ (Pheso), แมะหล่าหยู่ (Maelahyu); Pattani: ลักเคยลักเกลือ (Lakkheylakkaeu);|
Ratchaphruek Botanical Features:
Ratchaphruek is a medium-sized type of tree with strong, durable wood and is generally evergreen. It is typically 8 – 15 meters tall (but can be up to 20 meters) and is 0.5 – 0.75 meters in diameter.
Leaves: The leaves are deciduous with compound and alternate structures (15 – 40 cm long) and pinnate with leaflets 4 – 8 pairs (4 – 8 cm broad and 7 – 21 cm long) in oblong-ovate and acute at the apex. They are green to dark green in color.
Flowers: The flowers are bright yellow in color, the pendulous racemes are 30 – 60 cm long, and each flower is 4 – 7 cm in diameter with five yellow petals of equal size and shape; calyx oblong, pubescent, and ovate. The flowers appear mainly from February to May (especially during the dry season) in Thailand. While the flowers are blooming, they are leafless.
Fruits: The fruit is a legume and indehiscent pod, 40 – 60 cm long and 1 – 2 cm in diameter, containing 25 – 100 seeds and having a pungent odor. The fruits develop rapidly during October and start falling from January to April.
Ecology/Distribution: Cassia trees are generally considered to be native to the Indian subcontinent (India and Sri Lanka) and possibly extend to adjacent regions of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand) and southern China.
They are now widespread in tropical areas, usually in deciduous forests of East Africa, Indian Ocean islands, and the Pacific Ocean islands. They are also cultivated as ornamental trees throughout the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and some tropical African countries. (Source)
In Thailand, Ratchaphruek is a common tree species found in deciduous and dry mixed forests, ascending 50 – 500 meters above sea level. Most of them are found in the north of Thailand, however, they are distributed throughout the country after becoming Thailand’s national flower and tree. (Source)
How Important Is Ratchaphruek in Thai Culture?
Ratchaphruek in Traditional Thai Medicine:
These golden shower trees are widely used in Thai folklore medicine. They are considered mild laxative and anti-fungal pills which were used against various disorders: haematemesis, pruritus, diabetes, and other diseases (7). Different parts of the Ratchaphruek tree have medicinal properties as follows (8):
Pods: They are non-toxic with sweet, slightly sour, and bad smells. These parts are used as expectorant, anthelmintic, laxative, and anti-malarial drugs.
Fruits/ Fruits in pods: They have a sweet taste. They are used as an anthelmintic, laxative, and antimalarial drugs, and also joint pain relievers.
Seeds: They are used s are laxative and antiemetic drugs.
Flowers: They are bitter and sour. These parts are used as a diuretic drug for stomach problems and chronic ulcers.
Leaves: They have an intoxicating taste and are used to cure atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Roots: They are used to reduce fever, treat the gallbladder, cure eczema or any skin diseases, and treat infected and inflamed wounds.
Barks: They can help neutralize toxins and antiemetics.
Every part of the Cassia trees can be ground or pounded into fine powder for eating and applying to the skin or even dissolved in water for drinking as tea.
Ratchaphruek in Thai Beliefs, Religions, and Rituals
Ratchaphruek is mainly associated with the belief in auspiciousness. The Ratchaphruek flowers are used in various important ceremonies in Buddhism, combined with superstitions.
- The city pillar shrine: To worship and give offerings according to the establishment day of the city pillar shrine.
- House blessing/ healing ceremony: To protect the inhabitants of any residents from misfortune.
- Fortune ceremony: To change one’s bad fortune through a ceremony, and so forth
Interestingly, the belief of Ratchaphruek is also linked to the feng shui – the idea of understanding any place in the world as inspired by elements in Taoism and based on the cycles of nature to create harmony in life and spaces.
With this, Thai people in the past and the elders these days believe that those who live in houses surrounded by these trees, especially in the southwest of the houses, will bring honor, dignity, and prosperity.
Ratchaphruek in Thai Festivals
The Ratchaphruek flowers are a symbol of the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year Days) on April 13 – 15 of every year, which is the time when the flowers are in full bloom.
Therefore, it is regarded as a symbol of the beginning of the festival of happiness in Thai families.
This belief mostly appears in northern and northeast Thailand where people decorate flowers to worship the deity and buddha. People also put the Ratchaphruek flowers in the holy water to bathe Buddhist sculptures and pour this water onto the elderly members of the family to show respect and gratitude.
Where and When to See the Ratchaphruek Flower
If you are interested in seeing Ratchaphruek flowers, the perfect time to see them is during the Songkran Festival in April or between February and May when the flowers appear.
They will be everywhere along the inter-provincial roads and some places will look like natural flower tunnels along the way, especially in northern and northeastern Thailand.
The Ratchaphruek is not only the beautiful national flower of Thailand, but its uniqueness extends to its Thai cultural background – whether it be belief, religion, or wisdom.
They are often displayed at auspicious ceremonies and important festivals as they symbolize glory, harmony, and unity. If you visit Thailand and have the opportunity to admire these eye-catching flowers in full bloom, be sure to pay attention to the story behind them!
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.
Not finished reading about Thailand flowers? Check out our article: ‘Sacred Lotus Flower: What Does It Symbolize in Thailand?’