Plants have always been part of history, culture, tradition, religion and aesthetics. Nevertheless, its not these facts alone that elevate them . Certain plants are alleged to be closely associated with fortune and good luck if kept at strategic environs.
In villages, where formal gardening and aesthetic landscaping have not yet touched, it is the neem tree that is much revered because the village folks believe that good mystical beings dwell here. Though, there is no science behind it, the neem’s extraordinary ability to purify air, provide natural air-conditioning system, its insecticidal property, dust-trapping mechanism, providing dental care, use in exorcism and its unequivocal therapeutic potentials aptly earning the name ‘sarvaroganivarani’.
A story is told of a young man who had to leave his house to a distant land as work beckoned. His mother, reluctant to part with her son, gave him a piece of farewell advice. On his onward journey, she asked him to sleep under the tamarind tree and after completing his duty, while returning home, she told him to rest under the neem tree at night. The boy became very sick before he could start work and therefore was sent home. He returned home recuperated after sleeping under the neem tree. His mother knew the science behind this concept. The tamarind tree circulated plenty of acidic vapours that made the boy sick and the ‘good air’ associated with neem made him recover. Thus neem is held in deep respect. Its shade is a great reprieve and can be a great site for eco-parties, study centres, relaxing arenas and even natural bus shelters.
In South America, the golden oleander (Thevetia peruviana) is considered as a very lucky plant and people have gone to the extent of having the dry fruits in their pockets, pendants and purses as a good luck charm. In our cities too, it is a common garden plant in spite of its toxic nature. This is because of many reasons – beautiful, yellow flowers that are borne intermittently throughout the year, evergreen nature, shiny, attractive, dark green foliage, drought-tolerance, not finicky and a great specimen for small city gardens. Also the nectar-rich flowers are visited by sun birds even during noon time, which is very unusual.
The notion that Adenium obesum (Desert Rose) brings luck is very recent. As the name indicates, it is a xerophytic plant that survive well in water-scarce areas. But now it is a popular garden ornamental, commercially available in different colours. Interestingly, it produces flowers throughout when kept in sunlight, requires less water and space too. It is a hardy plant and can withstand drought. Apparently, it even gives the appearance of a well-trained bonsai. Though, both desert rose and yellow oleander are great ornamentals, one should exercise caution while handling these plants because of their toxic nature. It is better to keep these plants away from kids.
A very recent and much-publicised belief is about planting yellow bells (Tecoma species) in the front yard, with the hope that this plant would usher in prosperity, wealth and especially gold. This is because the profuse yellow flowers that showcase a spectacular display much like gold. The flowers bloom very quickly and is a favourite in city gardens. Hardy nature, bright yellow, spectacular flowers, and its almost pest-free qualities are other reasons for its popularity. Though exotic, this Caribbean plant has found naturalized itself very comfortably in urban Indian gardens. It is a nectar-rich flower, and there is a constant buzzing activity around it with a stream of visitors from the animal kingdom which includes different species of bees, wasps and the chirpy sunbirds too! Though most of these insects play an important role in pollination, interestingly the carpenter bee alone can be a nectar robber. This plant is worth planting not because it brings you gold but for the flowers that it produces almost throughout the year.
Luck or Labour?
Although Aloe plants are very popular as a skin toner and is widely used a significant ingredient in many cosmetic products and as a good luck charm capable of warding off evil and therefore is hung at the doorposts. Mango and mast leaves which are strung at the entrances also keep evil at bay. Bamboo shoots are considered as luck-usherers. Money plant, a climber and also an indoor décor species, is believed to bring money into homes. Tulsi, or holy basil, is special to many Indian households which signifies devotion, well being and goodness. And then there are those who plan thematic gardens - white flowers for peace, red flowers for love, yellow flowers for prosperity….
Thanks to myths, plants get some space in gardens. Whether or not they are true, these plants are worth having in your garden. John Greenleaf Whittier, an 18 century American Poet wrote -
Let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall
Who sows a field or trains a flower
Or plants a tree, is more than all.
The writer is a botanist and Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Biology, Women's Christian College. Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.