The flowers of India have been and still are popular with both tourists and natives of the country, due to a rich farming and gardening culture. Whether they are being used as decoration or as symbols in a ceremony, Indian flowers play a culturally significant role. Though some flowers typically associated with India may not actually have originated there, they might still be cultivated and propagated on the subcontinent and blend in well with the environment.
Also known as a water lily, the lotus is also the national flower of India, and is very often associated with yoga. It’s an aquatic plant with broad, waxy leaves and a red, pink, or white fragrant and symmetrically-petaled flower that grow in ponds or other types of shallow bodies of water. Lotuses have a number of symbolic or metaphorical meanings, the most common being enlightenment. Other meanings include divinity, fertility, wealth, and knowledge. The seeds of lotus plants are often used in Indian medicines that relieve kidney, spleen or heart ailments.
Aside from the lotus, orchids are the most well-known flower originating in India, especially the Small Warty Acampe, which is a small and clumpy species. Orchid powder is used sometimes as an energy supplement in India, though the plants themselves are notoriously high-maintenance and hard to grow. They can be found growing in swamps and mountain forests of northeastern India, the Eastern Himalayas, and Sri Lanka. Also found in the Himalayas, though the origins are technically unknown, is one of the oldest species of flowers in India: the Musk Rose. This flower’s symbolic meanings include peace, friendship, and love, depending on the flower color.
Jasmine, though more specifically, the white-flowered species called Jasminum multiflorum, is famous for blooming during Indian winters and often used for its fragrance, in teas, sewn together for use as garlands in women’s hair, and as decoration at weddings. Especially in the west and south if India, jasmine is privately cultivated in homes, in gardens, and indoor pots, though is commercially propagated as well.
Marigolds, Bougainvillea, Globe Amaranth and Four O’clock Flowers are all native of the Americas, but are now also used and grown in India. The rich golden-orangey color of the Marigold flower is associated with monks, religious ceremonies, celebrations, and festivals in both India and Nepal. They are often used to decorate buildings and are most widely cultivated in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Karnataka. Bougainvillea are also widely popular as an ornamental plant in India and Sri Lanka and can be found growing in Indian tropical and subtropical forests, Sultanpur National park, Kanha National Park and Eravikulam National Park. Globe Amaranths are grown as a decorative garden plant and are popular in Tamil and Nepalese cultures for their use in garlands for Brother's Day; the garlands are put around the brothers’ neck by their sisters as a symbol of protection. Lastly, the sweet-smelling Four O’clock Flowers, as the name suggests, open up around four in the afternoon and wilt the following morning. The variety that grows in India have two colors simultaneously on each plant, and in some warmer regions of the country, they can be exceptionally heavy, sometimes weighing up to 40 lbs.
Other non-native flowers that can be found growing in India but have possibly originated elsewhere include the Rhododendron and the Begonia. The most common type of Rhododendron is the azalea, though in India, there is a particularly wide array of species. Although it’s rare that Rododendron flowers are grown commercially, they are grown to make fruit and flower wines in the state of Himachal Pradesh, and is actually the official flower of Nepal. Begonias are found primarily in forests and native of South Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The cultivar Begonia rex, characterized by its large dominating foliage, is thought to have originated in India, though it was introduced in England.
Many of the more striking types of Indian flowers grow in the Himalayas, or are unique to certain areas in India. Blue poppies, for example, are native to the Himalayan areas of not only India, but also Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. These flowers are so notoriously hard to grow and maintain, that they have almost reached a mythical status. Because of their sweet at nutty taste, blue poppy seeds are sometimes used in baking. The Eremurus himalaicusis the most common Foxtail lily species found in the Himalayas, growing best in drier rocky environments, though don’t do well in cold winters. These flowers are quite notable for their small white blooms that grow clumped together on tall stems. The bell-shaped purple-blue Kurinji flowers grow nowhere else in the world but on the grasslands and wetlands of southern India or the Western Ghats mountains. Kurinji flowers were popular themes for Indian poets during the ancient Sangam age of the second and third centuries, and are most notable because they only bloom once every 12 years. Similarly to Kurinji flowers, shade-loving blue-pink Shirui can only be found growing in the high-altitude uppermost section of the Siroi hill ranges in Manipur and only bloom during monsoon season, which is June and July.
Other unique-looking and Indian flowers of note include the Lily Leaf Acriopsis, Balsam, and Gloriosa Lily. Lily Leaf Acriopsis have uniquely shaped blooms that resemble locusts and prefer humid environments like rainforests, wetlands, and sometimes mountainous areas, as in northeastern India. Balsams are a quick-growing flower that blooms during the summer, and are largely grown in pots, though they make excellent ground covers, bordering, and container plants in balconies and terraces. Some types of Balsam flowers contain a dye agent used in Henna, which is the substance used in the traditional hair and skin coloring practice called mehndi. Gloriosa Lilies are most known for its use in traditional medicine, and are also the state flower of Tamil Nadu and the national flower of Tamil Eelam, being widely displayed on Maaveerar Day. These are also called “climbing” lilies, due to their growth habit, and bear some resemblance to birds of paradise, though they have more rounded, reflexed petals like a Turk’s Cap Lily.