Butterflies and Sweet Indrajao

Sweet Inrajao with Butterflies

Hundred’s of butterflies on a single tree! I froze for a moment when I saw them. It was for the first time that I came across such a sight though I had heard about it. I knew it was season for migrating butterflies and hence decided to visit Lalbagh. I was rewarded for my visit :-). Though there were many flowering plants and trees at Lalbagh, I was surprised to see that the concentration of butterflies was more in one particular tree. It wasn’t just the butterflies, there were plenty of bees as well. I spent more than an hour watching those super active butterflies and bees.

Below are images of Blue Tiger, Common Crow, and Striped Tiger on Wrightia tinctoria.

Once I was back I started researching on the tree to understand what was so special about those flowers. Here is what I found about this tree.

Wrightia tinctoria belongs to family Apocynaceae commonly called as Sweet Indrajao, Pala Indigo Plant, Dyer’s Oleander and “Jaundice curative tree” in south India. Sweet Indrajao (Wrightia tinctoria) is a small, deciduous tree with a light gray, scaly smooth bark and fragrant flowers. Native to India and Burma, Wrightia is named after a Scottish physician and botanist William Wright (1740 – 1827). The leaves of this tree yield a blue dye called Pala Indigo. Sweet Indrajao is called dhudi (Hindi) because of its preservative nature. Supposedly a few drops of its sap in milk prevent curdling and enhance its shelf life, without the need to refrigerate. The wood of Sweet Indrajao is extensively used for all classes of turnery. It is made into cups, plates, combs, pen holders, pencils and bed stead legs. It is commonly used for making Channapatna toys. The juice of the tender leaves is used efficaciously in jaundice. Crushed fresh leaves when filled in the cavity of decayed tooth relieve toothache. In Siddha system of medicine, it is used for psoriasis and other skin diseases. Oil 777 prepared out of the fresh leaves of the plant has been assigned to analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-pyretic activities and to be effective in the treatment of psoriasis.

Here are the common names of Wrightia tinctoria in different languages:

Sanskrit Synonyms: Svetakutaja, Hayamaraka
English: Sweet Indrajao, Ivory wood, Pala indigo plant
Hindi: Duhi, Mitaindarjau Kapar
Malayalam: Dandappala, Ayyappala, Vettupala
Marathi: Kala kuda

Wrightia tinctoria flowers during the dry season from the second week of April to the first week of June. The mature bud blooms early in the morning.

Sweet Indrajao Flower

The sticky pollen grains and concealed anthers makes it impossible for pollination by wind. Wind causes swinging of flowers, but it does not cause any disturbance to the stamens to result in self-pollination. Wrightia tinctoria flowers with concealed anthers provide only nectar as a reward to the insect visitors. The flowers with their fragrance and creamy white color of the corolla and filaments attract different insects. The nectar is available at anthesis and once removed, the flower does not produce it again. This is one of the reasons why I saw bees and butterflies very active in the morning when the nectar is available in abundance in these flowers.

Interesting part is that it is not just bees and butterflies that are attracted to the flowers; even wasps and insects are seen in plenty.

After getting to know this information, I felt how ignorant I have been so far to ignore this magnificent tree whenever I passed by. Sweet Indrajao forgive me for my ignorance, I bow down to you with all respect.

Wrightia tinctoria Flower