There are many beautiful flowers native to Thailand, most of them extremely beautiful, exotic and fragrant. However there is one flower that does not particularly stand out, but yet is very close to the hearts and minds of all Thai people, mostly due to its bright yellow colour, and this is the Ratchaphruek, or Golden Shower. This flower is known as the National Flower of Thailand, or the Royal Flower.
The Ratchaphruek (cassia fistula) is native to Southeast Asia but is concentrated in Thailand, where its tree is also the national tree of Thailand! It can also be found in parts of India and is also the state flower of the Kerala province of India. It also has some important symbolism to Malaysian people.
The plant itself is a fairly large tree which can reach up to 20 metres in height and grows very fast. In the spring, beautiful, fragrant yellow flowers hang off the branches of this wide tree and make a spectacular blossom. This is intensified by the trees having hardly any leaves – it really is as if it’s just thin branches covered in yellow flowers and is quite unique. Even more unique is that they are always found by the sides of roads, especially in Thailand. These plants are suited to dry conditions and are fairly drought tolerant – and evidently tolerant to pollutants from vehicles too!
The reason for these flowers being so popular is that yellow is the colour of royalty in Thailand, and therefore these flowers are very symbolic of the King and the royal family. The King is totally revered by the Thai people as he has devoted his life to caring for his people, with many great inventions and schemes to better the life of his people all over his large kingdom. Thai culture also intertwines the monarchy with the main religion, Buddhism, hence the colour yellow is extremely significant to Thai people. Such it is that this humble flower has become so symbolic and loved by people all over the country. This love is intensified by the fact that they always grow by roadsides, where you will always find hundreds of thousands of images of the King and the royal family of Thailand. Some people believe this flower gives good luck and provides safety to road users.
This flower is so revered that there was even a flower festival in its honour – the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek festival of 2007, where this flower really took centre stage and people from all nations flocked to see wonderful different displays of the ratchaphruek, as well as many other beautiful flowers native to Thailand.
Finally, the wood from the ratchaphruek tree is very durable and is often used in construction. The flowers themselves have medicinal properties and the roots make good laxatives and are used as purgative medicines. These properties, combined with its stunning yellow colour, are almost certainly what makes this humble flower so important to Thailand and Thai people.
The author is an expert in Asian flora, and in particularly the interaction between flowers in Thailand and the cultural significance of using them. He also designed flower arrangements for a nationwide Thai flower shop and has been a respected contributor to a popular travel publication for Thailand.