Sri Lankan plants, soulmate of the nation | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan plants, soulmate of the nation

29 November, 2020
Coconut trees
Coconut trees

The rich vibrant beauty of nature filled with bowers of green, the natural streams with the soothing sound of water through the day winding away like slithering reptiles feed the earth with its chemicals to freshen the water, are wonders tucked away unseen to the human eye but nurturing their survival. The bowers and branches hanging from tall trees are spiritual to me and very aesthetic. This is what I call forest ecology where a variety of plants and grasses interact as habitat for innumerable organisms, both large and small.

All these miracles take place in the Dry Zone where I live beneficial to man’s survival. They are tastier and more succulent than the ones in the Wet Zone.

Food crops and ornamental plants thrive luxuriously in the Dry Zone.


It is one of the most useful trees in the world, and is often referred to as the ‘tree of life’. It provides food, fuel, cosmetics, folk medicine and building materials, among many other uses.

The inner flesh of the mature seed, as well as the coconut milk extracted from it form a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics.

Coconuts are distinct from other fruits because their endosperm contains a large quantity of clear liquid, called coconut water or coconut juice. Mature, ripe coconuts can be used as edible seeds, or processed for oil, milk from the flesh, charcoal from the hard shell, and coir from the fibrous husk.

Dried coconut flesh is called copra, and the oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking – frying in particular – as well as in soaps and cosmetics.

The hard shells, fibrous husks and long pinnate leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decoration. Coconuts have been used by humans for thousands of years, and may have spread to their present range because of Pacific Island settlers.


Next to the coconut, Jak takes pride of place as a food crop in every Sri Lankan home. Timber wise, much superior to coconut timber, Jak leads the way, best for carpenters for furniture with its attractive marking and long life stretching to over a century on finished products.

Hal Yet another very precious tree in Sri Lankan forestry is the Hal. Its distribution is mainly around and near streams and lakes in the moist region of the low country. A very handsome and straight stemmed tree with dark brown foliage and spreading crowns, it attracts birds because of its edible fruits and seeds.

It has cream coloured flowers giving out a fragrant scent that travels with the wind. Timber can be worked on easily which makes Hal possible for any type of woodwork after treatment.


My favourite ornamental tree from the wilds is a beautiful tree that is large and stands erect. It has a fluted base with a smooth and light grey bark. The leaves are dark and shiny with greenish white flowers.

The Rukkattana fruit is large and measures between 12-18 inches. The timber is ideal for coffins and tea-chests. Yet, poets rave about its beauty, sometimes making it look a close relative of our National tree. I have adored plants from the time I took my first step, my garden contains one or more banana, orange, papaya, woodapple, guava, avocado, mango, anoda, lovi, olive and a small sprinkling of greens for cooking, besides-tamarind, karapincha and rampe maintained in a long bed that looks very attractive.

The Covid-19 confinement of people can be looked upon as a blessing in disguise to appreciate and nurture home grown food for the family and instil its importance on the children.