Our culture is replete with symbolism. From statues to birds and even plants, everything carries some sort of auspiciousness or inauspiciousness. Let’s discuss five from each category, starting with the lucky plants.
The Queen of Home Plants: Tulsi or Ocimum tenuiflorum
We cannot start a discussion about lucky plants without talking about Kerala’s favourite – tulsi. It is a ‘holy’ herb popular across India. Most tharavads in Kerala sport a pretty tulsi plant right in the front yard. According to vastu, the ideal position is north, east or north-east. Tulsi is a medicinal plant that relieves fevers. It is considered to be an air purifier, kills bacteria and purifies body systems, all this, in addition to, bringing good vibes. If this isn’t enough for you, then tulsi is from the same genus as basil, and perhaps can be considered as a substitute for basil in certain dishes. The essential oils in tulsi are also great for your face, it relieves blackheads, dark spots, and even aids anti-ageing.
The Grandmother Plant: Neem or Azadirachta indica
Neem is an extremely beneficial plant. It requires little maintenance and even its mere presence in a house is said to be useful. According to vastu, the ideal position of neem is north-west. Neem is basically medicinal; even the air flowing through the tree is said to be healthy. Neem leaves aid in losing weight, killing bacteria, purifying air, purifying blood, and cleaning teeth. These are just a few of the top benefits, a list of neem’s comprehensive benefits would exceed the length of this article. If you don’t already have a neem tree, courtesy of wise elders, go get one immediately!
The Bringer of Wealth: Money Plant or Epipremnum aureum
Money plant, according to myth, is a natural ‘cash luck’ indicator. Money plant does not particularly have any medicinal properties and perhaps wasn’t particularly popular with ancestors. Yet, legend has it that it attracts wealth and there are many who believe that Feng Shui and Vastu agrees to this. It has become quite popular now because it is an indoor plant that requires little work, is pretty to look at, and maybe gives at least some people a sort of mythic confidence that jackpot ain’t so far away. Money plants are also said to absorb radiations and spread positivity.
The Most Graceful: Lotus or Nelumbo nucifera
Well, granted that most of us don’t have ponds or pools in our compounds, but the lotus finds a spot in this list due to its importance in Indian symbolism. It can also be grown in a large vessel placed in or around the house. Lotus often stands for that single flower of goodness that stands unsullied by the dirt around it. Besides, it smells pretty great, looks awesome, is medicinal and is our national flower. It is quite a unique house plant, and it adds a touch of tradition to the modern houses most people have today. Lotus, like a money plant, is also associated with wealth.
The Diamond in the Rough: Kattarvazha or Aloe vera
Aloe vera is, in truth, a desert plant. It thrives in a hot and dry climate, yet it can also find good roots in Kerala. It only requires a small area, preferably a small pot. Aloe vera is known for its bitter yet highly beneficial sap. Aloe gel can be used in everything ranging from face and hair products to juices, provided you can handle some bitterness.
We have discussed five lucky or auspicious plants according to Malayali customs, and on a broader spectrum, the Indian tradition. Now, let’s talk about the opposites. What are the unlucky plants according to tradition?
The Devil’s Tree: Ezhilampala or Alstonia scholaris
‘Ezhilampala poothu…poomarangal punchirichu’, Yesudas sang in 1973. Ezhilampala is indeed beautiful enough to be ‘romantic song worthy’. It’s leaves grow in a peculiar pattern, seven to each whorl. Hence the name ezhilampala. Unfortunately though, ezhilampala is considered to be unlucky by people. Its called the devil’s tree because of the popular myth that ghosts and evil spirits dwell in it. Every year during winter, the tree blossoms and the flowers have a strong, intoxicating smell that often causes problems for asthma patients. This smell is also associated with ghosts. If you don’t like ghosts, don’t live near an ezhilampala.
The Cosplayer: Nagapushpam or Dillenia pentagyna
Nagapushpa is named so because its flowers are shaped like snakes. It is an erect plant with diffused branches. A speciality of the nagapushpa is its big fruit. Nagapushpa is one of those trees that shed its leaves completely once or twice a year. Why shouldn’t nagapushapa be grown at home? Apparently, it attracts snakes due to its snake-shaped flowers and fragrance.
The Surprise Nominee: Tamarind or Tamarindus indica
This actually came as a surprise because puli is sort of ubiquitous in Malayalam dishes. The fruit of tamarind is extremely useful in making medicines that treat stomach disorders and cold. Tamarind sweets are also particularly delicious; sweetness blended with a tangy sourness. However, tamarind is said to bring bad luck to the neighbourhood in which its planted. According to vastu, tamarind increases negativity. It is also believed to shelter evil spirits. Chinese Feng Shui agrees to this observation on tamarind trees.
The Useful but ‘Inauspicious’ Plant: Mehandi or Lawsonia inermis
Mehandi or maruthani is a very popular plant among Indians. In Kerala, it is mainly used to make henna for both palm and hair. It is also used as an ingredient in hair oils. Again, the reason why mehandi shouldn’t be grown here according to vastu is because mehandi harbours evil spirits, which is pretty much a stock reason for most ‘inauspicious’ plants.
Cotton plant or Gossypium
The cotton plant, unlike the other plants in this list, is a shrub. It has three-lobed leaves. Cotton is cultivated for the fluffy fibre that surrounds the seed. It is easily spun into cloth fibre. Why is it inauspicious? Here the reason is not ghosts. Apparently, cotton, when homegrown invites dirt into the house. This would bring poverty to the house.
What are some “plant tales” that you’ve heard of? Tell us in the comments section!