Have you ever seen a Cannonball Tree?
I saw my first cannonball tree in Lamphun, two years ago. I was visiting Wat Phrathat Haripunchai Woramahawihan and came across a huge tree with hundreds of beautiful pink flowers.
After some research, I found its name: Couroupita guianensis, known by a variety of common names including Sala Tree and cannonball tree. This tree is native to the tropical forests of Central and South America but can be found in tropical area. In Thailand, it is often seen in temple, as it has a religious significance linked with India.
Cannonball Tree can reach heights up to 35 meters and sometime can hold as many as 1,000 flowers per day. This tree produces both fruits and flowers. If its flowers are especially fragrant at night, its fruits can be pretty smelly. Flowers are up to 6 centimerters in diameter with six petals and brightly colored, ranging from shades of pink and red near the bases to yellowish toward the tips.
The fruits are spherical with a woody shell, from where they got their name of “Cannon Ball”. Each fruit can hold from 65 to 550 seeds, its flesh is white but turns blue upon oxidation. They are edible but not usually eaten by people due to their unpleasant smell. There are usually fed to livestock such as pigs and domestic fowl. It takes up to a year to mature these fruits, sometimes even 18 months.
There are many medicinal uses for this plant in South America. Native Amazonians use extracts of several parts of the tree to treat hypertension, tumors, pain and inflammation.
Cannonball tree (or Sala tree) are planted in many Buddhist Temples. According to the Buddhist scriptures, it is said that Lord Buddha was born on the shade of a Sala tree.
The Sala tree was also mentioned many other times: in one Lord Buddha uses the sala tree and the Maluva Creeper as an analogy for the practice of the Dharma; in another He uses the Sala Tree to illustrate the growth in faith, vitues, learning, benevolence and wisdom. Finally, when Lord Buddha passed away into Parinibbana, He told Ananda to prepare the couch with his head to the North between twin sala trees. Story tells that when He lay down at last to rest, the two small Sala trees were in bloom though it was not the flowering season, and they shed their blossoms on him, washing away life gently in a soft, fragrant rain of petals. This scene from the life of the Buddha inspired artists to illustrate the particular scene with Sala flowers raining on him like a curtain.