What’s This Flower? Moodilla, they call it – Barringtonia Asiatica

Beachflower Study Beachflower Tree

I was with friends around Mirissa (on the south coast of Sri Lanka) one year in January when these beachside shrubs were flowering.  Lasting just the one night, the artless sweet-smelling pompoms fall in the morning, leaving the seed pod to mature into a handsome purse on the tree.  We first discovered the flowers strewn on the beach when we went for our morning walk.  While we were able to admire the flowers glowing palely in the moonlight, the trick was to capture an image in the daylight, before they fell.  I never discovered what they are called, and for some reason I’ve never been at another beach when they were flowering.

See other Delicate entries for this week’s Photo Challenge.

The mystery has been solved!

Christine, at Dadirridreaming, remembered a post by Chullie back in February, with a photograph of a fallen white flower with long wavy stamens.

Etching by Francisco Manuel Blanco, "Flora de Filipinas", 1880-1887

Etching by Francisco Manuel Blanco, “Flora de Filipinas”, 1880-1887

Among other things, Chullie tells of a young man who was planting Moodilla as part of the Tsunami land rehabilitation around Kalutara – which is the sort of story I love to read about.  And Wikipedia has a beautiful drawing by Francisco Manuel Blanco, from his 1880-1887 folio Flora de Filipinas, which makes the plant description at http://toptropicals.com/catalog/uid/Barringtonia_asiatica.htm immediately recognisable:

Barringtonia asiatica, Mammea asiatica, Barringtonia speciosa, Agasta asiatica, Butonica rumphina
Family: Barringtoniaceae / Lecythidaceae
Sea Poison Tree, Langasat, Fish Poison Tree, Putat Laut, Butun, Butong, Pertun, Balubiton, Lugo, Motong-botong, Vuton
Origin: Coastal areas of: Indian, Madagascar, Philippines, Polynesia
Can be used for bonsaismall tree 10-20 ftfull sunkeep soil moistwhite/off-white flowerspink flowerspoisonous or toxicfragrantethnomedicalattracts butterflies, hummingbirdsFlood tolerantSeaside, salt tolerant plantincuded in CD catalog

This curious plant grows in sand or sand-mix with lots of water and sun. The stem will reach for up to 60Ft, and the flowers are white. It can be reproduced by seeds. What seems to be a caudex is just the large nut which will disappear by time. In habitat it is a large tree that grows on sandy and rocky shores, it has large leaves held in rosettes at the ends of branches. The young leaves are a beautiful bronze with pinkish veins. Old leaves turn yellowish. The flowers are delightful puff balls of white stamens tipped with pink. They open at night and attract large moths and nectar-feeding bats with their heavy scent. The next morning, the flower stamens are usually found strewn beneath the tree. The fruits have a typical lantern shape and float on the water. The fruit can survive drifting on the sea for long distances and for periods of up to 2 years. They were among the first seeds to arrive on the island of Krakatau when it first emerged out of the sea. The outermost layer of the fruit wall is green turning brown when ripe. The middle layer is spongy and contains air sacs to help the fruit float. The innermost layer is hard and thick to protect the seed (the layers of spongy and hard coverings are somewhat similar to the coconut). All parts of the tree contain saponin, a poison. The seeds and other parts of the plant are pounded, pulped or grated to release the poison and used to stun fish in freshwater streams. The floating seeds are sometimes used as fishing floats. A colorful shady tree, it is commonly planted as a roadside tree. The heated leaves are used to treat stomach ache and rheumatism (Philippines); seeds are used to get rid of intestinal worms.

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40 thoughts on “What’s This Flower? Moodilla, they call it – Barringtonia Asiatica

    • Teresa suggested that too, but if you click on the thumbnail of the bush, you’ll see the leaves and fruit are quite distinct and very different. I’ll have to figure out how to use the Kew Garden website to search for it, I think because now I’m intrigued to see if the similarity in the flower means they’re related. Thanks dear 🙂

  1. Looks like those fiber optic lights that were cool maybe in the 70’s (my grandmother had one). Very cool and interesting; how beautiful and a rare treat, so it sounds, to see and be able to capture on film.

    • Strange, I saw a hedge of them growing in a school yard here in Colombo just today! According to the botanical notes they’re quick growing, and salt tolerant, and are common all over the tropical areas of the Pacific and Indian oceans. What a find!

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