The curious case of the Sri Lankan national flower that wasn’t

Greg Stevens
  • In 1986, Sri Lanka named a indigenous blue water lily, known domestically as nil manel, as its countrywide flower, but a blunder in the formal declaration meant an released species, violet in color and known as dam manel, has due to the fact been broadly promoted as the countrywide flower.
  • Presidential greeting cards, postage stamps and faculty textbooks are amid the formal publications that propagated the mistaken identification, in spite of consensus from the scientific community on what the genuine species is, and even with afterwards govt endeavours to proper the mistake.
  • A 2017 review shows the blue and violet lilies are normally hybridizing, additional complicating efforts to disentangle the two, and prompting phone calls to select a new nationwide flower.
  • A number of eye-catching candidates have been proposed, including the pink-and-crimson Vesak orchid (Dendrobium maccarthiae), binara (Exacum trinervium), and ma rath mal (Rhododendron arboreum zeylanicum).

COLOMBO — As a school scholar in Sri Lanka in 1986, Deepthi Yakandawala despatched a greeting card to the country’s president, J.R. Jayewardene, for Vesak, the holiest working day in the Buddhist calendar. Presidents past and existing have once in a while responded in sort, and in Deepthi’s scenario, she received a card back again with a photo of violet-colored water lilies.

This individual flower experienced just been declared a handful of months prior as the nationwide flower of Sri Lanka. Besides that it was not. And for the youthful Deepthi, it in no way happened to her at the time that an official card sent by the president would clearly show the mistaken flower.

But it wasn’t just the presidential greeting cards. Federal government newspapers, postage stamps, faculty textbooks — around the decades all would bear photographs of the same violet h2o lily that they identified as nil manel in Sinhala and neelothpalam in Tamil, Sri Lanka’s official languages.

Quickly-forward to the current day, and Deepthi Yakandawala, now a outstanding plant taxonomist and professor of botany at the College of Peradeniya, is primary a campaign to accurate a mistake that has persisted in excess of the decades.

The dam manel flower, launched to Sri Lanka in the early 1970s as an decorative plant and afterwards mistakenly promoted as the nationwide flower. Image courtesy of Pradeep Rajatewa.

The ‘real’ countrywide flower

Sri Lanka’s nationwide flower was declared at the similar time as its national tree, the Ceylon ironwood (Mesua ferrea), in February 1986. But the collection committee omitted to include things like an impression of the flower in its report, describing it only as Nymphaea stellata, a pale blue water lily.

The really first time the public read about the declaration of the nationwide flower was in an posting printed March 1 that year in a state-operate Sinhala everyday newspaper. And that is wherever the oversight was born. The picture accompanying the article was not that of a pale blue flower, but a violet a person, a hybrid water lily species now thought to have been introduced into Sri Lanka in the early 1970s as an ornamental plant.

The oversight rippled out from there. A postage stamp commemorating the declaration also carried the incorrect flower. School textbooks recognized the purple h2o lily as Nymphaea stellata. And the president sent out Vesak greeting cards displaying the exact same flower.

In 1986, this commemorative stamp of the national flower carried an impression of the wrong flower. Picture courtesy of Deepthi Yakandawala.

Not everybody obtained it wrong, on the other hand. The 1988 version of the Countrywide Atlas, revealed by the Survey Office, carried the image of the appropriate — pale blue — drinking water lily. But all other government establishments continued to use the wrong — violet — picture, further more ingraining this mistaken id in society. It didn’t enable that the violet flower, an invasive species, was more substantial and much more greatly dispersed, and hence much more quickly recognizable, than the less common blue just one.

In the meantime, Deepthi had absent on to study botany at the College of Peradeniya. She posted prolifically, and earned her doctorate from the College of Examining in the U.K., before returning to her alma mater, the place now she heads the Section of Botany. Together with her partner, Kapila Yakandawala, from Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, she began boosting the difficulty of the nationwide flower’s legitimate identity with the authorities close to 2010. The pair also prompt that the scientific name for nil manel really should be Nymphaea nouchali,  often acknowledged by its synonym Nymphaea stellata.

In 1986, this commemorative stamp of the countrywide flower carried an impression of the completely wrong flower. Graphic courtesy of Deepthi Yakandawala.

Calls for correction

In 2011, the Ministry of Surroundings convened a committee to clear up the confusion. Amid the suggestions it issued were being that the ministry publicize and popularize the appropriate flower and assure the use of the right picture by all government departments. But whilst the govt accredited the recommendations in 2015, the incorrect identification carries on to prevail. In latest weeks, Parliament’s Committee on Community Accounts (COPA) has instructed the Ministry of Ecosystem to carry out a marketing campaign to elevate community recognition.

Meanwhile, the Yakandawalas continued researching the h2o lily and discovered the violet wide variety and the indigenous blue one have been hybridizing. They named the violet invader Nymphaea × erangae. Their discovery of populations of drinking water lilies with intermediate characteristics amongst the indigenous Nymphaea nouchali and Nymphaea × erangae showed that pure hybridization is widespread in this spouse and children of crops, and highlighted the great importance of conserving the one of a kind genetic identification of the native species.

Even while the public ongoing to be fed images ofthe mistaken flower, the scientific group was conscious of the blunder, suggests Magdon Jayasuriya, a plant ecologist. Jayasuriya was responsible for the sole formal instance where the accurate flower was discovered: the 1988 atlas.

The “National Atlas” published by the Study Office in 1988 carries the picture of the accurate flower in line with the scientific community’s consensus, even though other government institutions have popularized the completely wrong flower. Graphic courtesy of Malaka Rodrigo.

Botanist L.K. Senaratna, from the Open University of Sri Lanka, was an additional who caught on early. She claims she remembers that as shortly as the initial image of the completely wrong flower was posted in 1986, her father, B.A. Abeywickrama, an emeritus professor at the College of Colombo, pointed out the error. “However, the mistaken type of flower proved a lot more eye-catching than our paler and considerably less conspicuous but quite lovely nil manel,” she suggests. “The [Ministry of Environment] committee’s tips fell on deaf ears and therefore the erroneous flower ongoing to take pleasure in its position as the national ability.”

The 1986 committee that selected the national flower applied various conditions to make its decision, such as endemicity (irrespective of whether the species is observed only in Sri Lanka), utility price, historical and cultural significance, visual appearance, distribution, and reproducibility with cultural significance. An additional ailment was that the chosen flower should really not be a flower of an additional nation. That need to have dominated Nymphaea nouchali out of contention, as a white variant of this h2o lily experienced already been adopted as the countrywide flower of Bangladesh again in 1971.

Supplied all the confusion about Sri Lanka’s national flower, the state could be better off deciding upon a new flower that can be clearly determined and which is undeniably one of a kind to Sri Lanka, suggests Jagath Gunawardena, a veteran environmental law firm and naturalist who was a member of the 2011 committee that suggested steps to correct the miscalculation. If a new look for ensues, he claims, he by now has a beloved: the Vesak orchid (Dendrobium maccarthiae), an endemic and wonderful flower in pale pink and crimson.

A bunch of indigenous blue drinking water lilies. Image courtesy of Sanjeewa Pupasinghe.

“We shouldn’t be hesitant in picking a new national flower if the current just one has a perplexing recognize, as [the concept of a national flower] shouldn’t be concrete,” Pradeep Rajatewa, founder of the  Flora Sri Lanka web site, tells Mongabay. He details out that Sri Lanka in 1991 adjusted its countrywide activity, from the baseball-like recreation identified as elle to volleyball.

Rajatewa says there are plenty of candidates from which to pick a new nationwide flower for Sri Lanka. Amongst them, the endemic binara (Exacum trinervium macranthum), ma rath mal (Rhododendron arboreum zeylanicum) and ran dothalu (Loxococcus rupicola) ought to be some of the key contenders, Rajatewa states.



Yakandawala, D. M., Kumudumali, D. P., & Yakandawala, K. (2017). Evidence for interspecific hybridization amongst unique ‘Dam manel’ (Nymphaea × erangae) and native ‘Nil manel’ (Nymphaea nouchali Burm. F.) in Sri Lanka. Ceylon Journal of Science46(3), 81-91. doi:10.4038/cjs.v46i3.7445


Banner image of the nil manel, Sri Lanka’s national flower, courtesy of Aruna Yasapalitha.

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