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Polyalthia longifolia, the False ashoka native to India, is a lofty evergreen tree, commonly planted due to its effectiveness in alleviating noise pollution. It exhibits symmetrical pyramidal growth with willowy weeping pendulous branches and long narrow lanceolate leaves with undulate margins. The tree is known to grow over 30 ft in height.
Polyalthia is derived from a combination of Greek words meaning ‘many cures’ with reference to the medicinal properties of the tree while Longifolia, in Latin, refers to the length of its leaves.
Polyalthia longifolia is sometimes incorrectly identified as the ashoka tree (Saraca indica) because of the close resemblance of both trees.
One might mistake it as a tree with effectively no branches, but in fact a Polyalthia allowed to grow naturally (without trimming the branches out for decorative reasons) grows into a normal large tree with plenty of shade.
Common names include false ashoka, the Buddha tree, Indian mast tree, and Indian fir tree. Its names in other languages include Ashoka in Sanskrit, Unboi (উনবৈ) or Debadaru (দেৱদাৰু) in Assamese, Debdaru in Bengali and Hindi, Asopalav (Gujarati), Glodogan tiang (Indonesian), Ashok in Marathi and Nettilinkam நெட்டிலிங்கம் in Tamil, and araNamaram: അരണമരം (Malayalam). The False ashoka was cultivated and gained popularity in British India for nostalgic reasons because it resembled the Mediterranean cypress, and also in order to be used to make ship masts. It does not require pruning in order to maintain its tall, straight, main trunk with short, drooping branches.
Found natively in India and Sri Lanka. It is introduced in gardens in many tropical countries around the world. It is, for example, widely used in parts of Jakarta in Indonesia and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
Fresh leaves are a coppery brown color and are soft and delicate to touch, as the leaves grow older the color becomes a light green and finally a dark green. The leaves are shaped like a lance and have wavy edges. The leaves are larval food plant of the tailed jay and the kite swallowtail butterflies.
In spring the tree is covered with delicate star-like pale green flowers. The flowers last for a short period, usually two to three weeks, are not conspicuous due to their color.
The leaves are used for ornamental decoration during festivals. The tree is a main attraction in gardens throughout India. The tree can be cut into various shapes and maintained in required sizes. In past, the flexible, straight and light-weight trunks were used in the making of masts for sailing ships. That is why the tree is also known as the Mast Tree. Today, the tree is mostly used for manufacturing small articles such as pencils, boxes, matchsticks, etc.
- The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species, retrieved 6 January 2016
- McCann, Charles (1959). 100 Beautiful Trees of India: A Descriptive and Pictorial Handbook. D.B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd. p. 32.
- "Polyalthia Longifolia The Mast Tree". The Lovely Plants.
- Chen, Chung-Yi; Fang-Rong Chang; Yao-Ching Shih; Tian-Jye Hsieh; Yi-Chen Chia; Huang-Yi Tseng; Hua-Chien Chen; Shu-Jen Chen; Ming-Chu Hsu; Yang-Chang Wu (2000). "Cytotoxic Constituents of Polyalthia longifolia var. pendula". Journal of Natural Products. 63 (11): 1475–1478. doi:10.1021/np000176e. PMID 11087586. S0163-3864(00)00176-2. Retrieved 2007-09-21.