The lotus (bua, pathum and ubon in Thai) is probably the most common native flower of Thailand. It grows wild in the country’s waterways. Descriptions of the lotus in Thai literature reflect its historical and cultural significance and its religious role as the flower associated with gods and goddesses. Yet it is just one of hundreds of species of flowering plants that find favor in a land famous for revering and exporting beautiful flowers.
The spider lily (Lycoris genus) is also called hurricane lily or cluster amaryllis. It is native to northern Thailand as well as China and other parts of Asia. The spider lily is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family, which includes about 20 different species. Its blooms are orange, red, white or yellow. Spider lilies are further defined by their stamen. Lycoris radiata have stamen twice the length of the tepals, while Lycoris sanguinea have stamen just a little longer than the tepals. Spider liies were the original flowers of choice for Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong festival, usually in November, on the night of a full moon and when the water levels are high. It is customary for Thais to set small, lotus-shaped floats fashioned from banana leaves and decorated with spider lilies, candles, incense and other offerings, on Thailand’s many waterways. They are offerings to the water goddess, and symbolically represent problems and troubles floating away.
The national flower of Thailand is called ratchaphruek, or golden shower tree (Cassia Fistula). In Thailand, the tree is also called the lantern tree. This evergreen summertime bloomer exhibits clusters of bright yellow 3-inch flowers. It grows to heights of between 30 to 40 feet, preferring full sun and well-drained soil. It is drought- and salt-tolerant but cannot survive frost. The flower of the golden shower tree represents the color of Monday in Thailand, yellow in honor of His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose day of birth was a Monday. It also symbolizes the color of Buddhism, which is the predominant faith of Thailand. The golden shower tree provides multiple herbal and other medicinal benefits.
There are more than 1,000 species of orchids or gluay mhai in Thailand, growing from sea level to elevations of over 3,000 feet, in a variety of conditions from humid rain forests to mountain rockery. Pollination requirements play a key part in the shapes and colors of Thai orchids. Some have developed defensive capabilities that discourage certain pollinating insects. Some orchids can close their petals to protect against unwanted pollinators. There are several principal groups of Thai orchids, namely Epidendrum or wild orchids, Denobrium, common to southeast Asia, Cattleya, which are mostly hybrids, Cymbidium, which have long-lasting multiple blooms, and the highly fragrant Brassavola. Northern Thailand is at the center of orchid cultivation in Thailand. Orchids are an important export industry.