The Crazylanka feature on useful plants of Sri Lanka and their new botanical names. Read all about Wadakaha and Kenda kola! Aney Mage Emily Pane...!
|We Have Gone To Seed!
A Special Botanical Feature
An Illustrated Guide to the
Useful Plants Of Sri Lanka
If you like this sort of
you might like our revision of the History of Sri Lanka!
The tropical island of Sri Lanka boasts lush vegetation amongst which are a very large number of useful plants. These have largely been ignored in standard books on Botany and/or have been given ridiculous Latin binomials and Western names. We are in the process of cataloguing such plants. Contributions welcome! 1st July 2004.
|Halapeniya othaniya Native n.: "Kenda kola", Latin binomial: nk|
|This plant grows mostly in the wetlands and
generally near tea shacks along the Bandaragama - Piliyandala road and
has been used since Portuguese times to wrap Halapa (a flat, sweet,
steamed pudding made of millet flour, coconut and jaggery).
Halapa was, surprisingly, named after a Portuguese by the name of General Dom Alonzo de Fernao who arrived in Sri Lanka on the 18th of June 1558 and was placed in charge of the fort at Kalutara. He was of portly proportions and his main achievement in life was to fall into the Kalu Ganga near Narthupana. Thereupon he shouted "Help! Help!".
The natives were amused by this spectacle and promptly called him "Help-aya" or "Halp-aya" this latter being a mispronunciation of "Help" (as in "Mata halp ekak karanna puluwanda?")
At that time the natives of this area were partial to "Thalapa" and Fernao developed a liking for it and frequently would ask the natives for Thalapa. This quickly became "Halap-ayata thalapa....Thalap-ayata halapa...Halapaya! Thalapaya.. etc" and eventually Thalapa became Halapa.
To this day the leaves of this plant are used to wrap Halapa, although leaf shaped sheets of thin, green polythene (sili-sili Halapa kola) are entering the market. The plant has no other known useful function.
Link to the Portuguese fort at Kalutara
Footnote: The Kalu Ganga at Narthupana, where Dom Alonzo fell into the river, can now be safely crossed by means of the new Japanese built bridge. Most locals though, still remember the story of "Halapaya"! (Ask Alponsu Aiya in the first Coca Cola shack next to the old bridge). Narthupana may be reached by the Nagoda junction on the south side of the river. At Tebuwana, just before Narthupana, the river does a rather unusual 90 degree turn. Unusual in the sense that there are no rapids or whirlpools. Worth looking out for!
Above: Leaves of Helapeniya othaniya.
Below: Typical Sri Lankan "Tea shack" (Thé Kadé) on the Bandaragama-Piliyandala road
CrazyPlanet Travel Guide to Sri Lanka
|Habarella muss-othaniya Native n.: "Habarala", Latin binomial: Colocasia esculenta.|
Above: Habarella muss-othaniya.
Below: Habarella muss-othaniya leaves at Abdullah's Meat Supermarket
|The origin of the name of this plant is open
to speculation. One theory is that during Portuguese times some of the more
effeminate Portuguese men carried umbrellas during the monsoons.
The natives had long used leaves of this plant to protect themselves from rain and it is thought that the Portuguese nancy boys called the plant the "Humbrella Plant" which the natives corrupted to Habarala or Habarella.
The relatively modern name stems from its use by butchers to wrap meat (muss=meat) and is thought to have been first used for this purpose by one Abdullah Siddeequi (1807-1868) of Heenatiyangala, Kalutara.
The original butcher's establishment still exists and does good business. (Take the Heenatiyangala road towards Nagoda from the Holy Cross junction at Kalutara)
The Habarella leaves come from a nearby swamp.
Above: A local girl, Charmaine Fernando, buying meat at Abdullah's Meat Supermarket.
(Note pile of muss-othaniya leaves!
The pink mass on a hook is a pair of lungs.)
|Wetta-hitavaniya disputa Native n.: Wetta Mara, Latin binomial: Gliricidia sp.|
Gliricidia, Wetta-Mara or "Living fence", this unassuming tree has
surprisingly been the cause of a number of land disputes and even murders!
Traditionally, straight branches of the tree are planted as a boundry but placed approximately six-and-a-half inches inside the neighbour's land.
The neighbour then responds to this atrocity by cutting off branches and feeding them to his cows.
Initially verbal, the dispute gradually escalates and since machetes (Kaththa) are used for cutting the branches fatal injuries have been known to occur.
The original Sinhala name Mara of course means Death!
Left A living fence of Wetta-hitavaniya disputa. Right: Having planted a fence inside his neighbours territory and having therby gained six inches of land this man hugs the fence!
|Emily-pannéya vomica Native n.: Wadakaha, Latin binomial: Acorus calamus.|
"Wadakaha" by the natives and given the botanical name of Acorus
calamus (Who thinks up these stupid names?
-Ed), this plant shot to fame in 1955 during the total eclipse of the
sun seen over Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).
A dark-skinned girl ("Kalu Baduwa") by the name of Emily fell for the myth that drinking large quantities of a decoction made from the rhizomes of this plant, during a total solar eclipse, lightens the skin! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Emily suffered severe bouts of vomiting and spent the next three days in hospital.
This incident is immortalised in the "Baila" song: "Wadakaha Sudiya!" The modern name of the plant is derived from the words of the song: "Aney Magé Emily Pannéy!..."
Top left: Emily-pannéya flowers Right: Emiliy-pannéya plant Bottom left: Total eclipse of the type seen over Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1955. All total eclipses look the same and so we used a library picture.
|Katuannoniya yatipathulé Native n.: Nidikumba, Latin binomial: Mimosa pudica, English n.: Sensitive Plant.|
Above: The idiot natives of the Solomon Islands like the plant so much that they put it on a stamp! Maybe they don't have many plants there!
|A common and well known ground-hugging
weed, Nidikumba or Mimosa pudica as it was known then in the
1960's, has recently been re-named Katuannoniya yatipathulé.
In the 50's and 60's, sadistic schoolteachers would force errant schoolboys to walk over clumps of this plant, barefooted.
As the plant is generously endowed with prickles, this was not a very pleasant experience!
During Portuguese times, according to History teachers, errant natives were made to do the same but as they (the natives) all had thick soles as a result of walking barefooted all the time, this form of torture apparently had very little effect.
The Portuguese were mystified by this. In later years however, the Dutch worked it out and instead of making the natives walk over clumps of this plant they made them roll in them. Unfortunately for the Dutch the natives were used to this as well. For many centuries pilgrims to Kataragama had done exactly that! i.e. Rolling in Nidikumba!
There are unsubstantiated reports that the British stuffed cuttings of this plant inside the underwear of the natives but these reports are of a doubtful nature as natives were never known to wear underpants under the sarong.
Above: A vicious Katuannoniya clump
Below: The plant has pretty flowers though!
|Poospattiya moolhapaniya Native n.: "Kuppameniya" Latin binomial: Acalypha indica|
Above: Acalypha indica. Cures asthma, raktha waathé and piles.
|This rather unassuming "weed" is actually
a herb which is efficacious in all sorts of ailments from asthma
through Raktha Waathé to piles ("ar-shush").
The medicinal qualities are well known to cats who chew on the roots of this plant (the new name comes from this curious phenomenon). Cats do not suffer from any of the above ailments.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of an opposable thumb, cats can't uproot the plant and depend on stupid humans to do so! Dogs, who are utterly stupid creatures, don't know this anyway.
Clever humans occasionally cook this herb but since it is not sold in Keels' Supermarkets nor at Cargills its consumption is equated with working class-ness.
Cats, who do not shop at supermarkets, know better!
Above and below: Ghost the cat, enjoys its daily session of moolhapaniya!
Coming soon! More Useful Plants!
If you like this sort of idiocy you might like our revision of the History of Sri Lanka!