The Na Tree, also transcribed Naa Tree, (Ceylon Iron wood, Mesua ferrea) is of highly symbolic significance, it is the National Tree of Sri Lanka. The next Buddha, Metteya (Maitreya), is believed to find enlightment under a Na Tree. Many parts and products of this tree are used in Ayurveda medicine, for example antiseptically or staunching bleedings. Its oil is an ingredient in perfumery and cosmetics. The fragrant flowers are used a temple offerings. Iron wood, due to its density and hardness, is highly appreciated in carpentry. In Sri Lanka, Iron wood was reserved for the construction of sacred shrines, not only for Buddhist and Hindu temples but for mosques and churches, too. Na trees were also cultivated only as ornamental due to their graceful shape and colours.
Leafs of Na trees show different colours, not according to seasons but to their age. Drooping young leaves have a beautiful pink flush, later on they become grayish-green. The solitary flowers, which are bisexual, have four white petals and myriads of orange yellow stamens in the centre. The fruit is a capsule with 1 to 2 seeds. The tree can grow over 30 meters tall, the trunk can reach up to 2 meters in diameter.
Na trees can be seen in almost every part of the island. Favourite habitat is the hillcountry in a moderate altitude of about 400m. In the lowcountry, the Na tree perfers areas with lots of ground water. But it occurs in the dry zone, too, where streams or lakes supply enough water. However, Cultural Triangle dry zone Na trees, though very old, seem to have been planted by man centuries ago, namely as sacred trees, but presumably they were not growing wild in this dry part of the island.
In the wet zone, in the south-west of the country, there is a subspecies, or even separate species, called “Diya Na”, meaning “Water Na”, Mesua thwaitesii, which is endemic to Sri Lanka. It is smaller, about 15 m tall. In contrast to other Iron Wood, it is not cultivated.
Mesua ferrea species names
The Na tree is Sri Lanka’s well-known national tree. There is an ongoing debate about the names of this species. It is called Mesua nagassarium or Mesua ferrea. The Na tree is slow-growing. Due to the hardness of its timber, it also called “Iron wood”, but this is not a specific name for the Asian Mesua ferea, it’s in use for different species of hard precious timber from various continents.
The Sinhalese word for Mesua ferrea, “Na”, with a long “a”, is derived from Sanskrit “Naga”, meaning cobra. A Hindi word for Iron wood is “Nagakesar”, on the island of Java it is called “Nagasari”, Tamils use this term “Naka”, too, but have many different names for this tree. English names are "Indian Rose Chestnut" and "Cobra's Saffron", too.
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