Like the sundal of folklore, the tuberose is a night-blooming, heavily scented flower. The odour profile is described as 'carnal, creamy and fleshy floral notes, which can present mentholated facets when blooming or even rotten meat off-notes when ripe.' The scent is a complex mix of flower shop freshness and velvety opulence, and is used as a middle note in perfumery; however only the most costly perfume has real tuberose extracts. It is also said to be extremely polarising i.e. some people love it and some hate it.
But the sundal of folklore is associated with the pontianak - in fact, this vampiric creature is supposed to haunt the sundal tree. It is possible that pontianaks or langsuir absorb the scent or essence of the sundal flowers to increase their powers of attraction over men. But how can a plant, barely three feet (one metre) tall, give shelter to a pontianak? The other problem is that all species of Polianthus are native to Mexico. I suspect that since the plant has no common name in Malaysia, local gardeners decided to give an exotic plant a local name, as a form of identification. Anyway, the tuberose is in a class of its own, with an intensity and creaminess beyond any other. The natural blooms are so powerful that they can fill a room and continue exuding fragrance for days. The tuberose is seductive alright, but it is definitely NOT the sundal of folklore. However, if you are desperate to get hold of a tuberose-based perfume, Fracas by Robert Piguet is supposed to set the benchmark - according to www.fragrantica.com/notes/tuberose-25.html
|Can the Polianthus tuberosa be the |
sundal of folklore?
|Beautiful Polianthus tuberosa flowers|
So what are the serious contenders for the title of sundal harum malam? After an extensive internet search (and several false leads), it seems that the sundal could be one of the following trees:
|the Frangipani/Champa/Bunga Kemboja|
However, the frangipani has large sparse leaves - hardly a place for a creature of the night to hide. We had a large frangapani tree growing in the front yard of the house when we were living in Federal Hill, Kuala Lumpur but I never felt any supernatural energy from the plant!
The next candidate is the parijata, harsingar or shefali; other names for this flower are coral jasmine and night flowering jasmine. Nyctanthes arbor-tristis is also known as the sad tree or the tree of sorrow as its flowers are shed like tears, at the first light of dawn. The parijata was one of the treasures thrown up, by the churning of the primordial ocean, samudra mantha, by the devas and asuras (refer to my post, The Devas and the Asuras). It is also the only flower which can be picked from the ground to be given as offerings at temples; all other flowers have to be hand-picked from the plant. The parijat or shefali is also the state flower of Bengal. There is another charming story associated with this flower: Parijata was a beautiful and sensitive princess who fell in love with Surya, the sun god. Unfortunately, her love was unrequited. The sun god spurned her and she pined away. When she was cremated on her funeral pyre, a beautiful tree sprang up from the ashes of the sad princess. But she could not stand the light of the sun and bloomed only at night, shedding her flowers in sorrow at dawn.
|Heliotrope flowers follow the sun as it moves across the sky|
|The fragrant tanjung blossoms are thought to be the tears of a faerie|
|Night Jessamine/Sundal tree?|
The fourth candidate is the night jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) also known as Raat Ki Rani or Queen of the Night, in India. A member of the nightshade family, the night jessamine seems to have all the right attributes - a tree bearing quantities of small white flowers which produce an overwhelming sickly sweet frangrance at night. The plant is native to the West Indies and South Asia. The heavy scent from this plant can cause breathing difficulties, headache and nausea in susceptible individuals. The plant is poisonous in all its parts and can cause feverish symptoms, rapid pulse rate and delirium if ingested. The small ovoid purplish fruits are especially toxic. The flowers are also used in shamanic rituals in Nepal.
|Buy from MPHOnline.com|