The mysterious bastard teak

In SN 35.245 we have the simile of the “bastard teak” AKA “parrot tree” AKA “flame of the forest”. In Pali it’s usually called palāsa, but here it is kiṁsuka “What the?”.

The text gives a variety of descriptions, and here’s my best attempt at matching them.

‘A bastard teak is blackish, like a charred stump.’

‘A bastard teak is reddish, like a lump of meat.’

‘A bastard teak has flaking bark and burst pods, like an acacia.’


‘A bastard teak has luxuriant, shady foliage, like a banyan.’


I had not previously understood how this tree could be “like meat”.

I had a vague image in my head that it must be a horrendous kind of giant rafflesia arnoldii, just wafting rotting meat smell everywhere.

Thankyou very much for clearing this up. :pray:


Ufff… In the german version at they call it “Judasbaum” (“Judas tree”) (SN 35.204 Tr.: W.Geiger/Nyanaponika). That made a complete absurde imagination in me (which I always blocked) - and now I see such nice pictures… Translating is sometimes a very difficult job, one can understand…


Judasbaum is a different species. This is the one: Malabar-Lackbaum – Wikipedia

I am hesitating between “Palasabaum” and “Lackbaum”—the latter is referring to an insect that feeds on this tree. In German I don’t find a nice name that sounds mysterious though (but maybe the name “Kinobaum” is alluding to kiṁsuka?).

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The WP-pictures are nice! So W. Geiger was in err (the contents of the sutra is exactly about what Ven Sujato writes)

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Thanks for the interesting post, Bhante!
Just wanted to add that the name is ‘kiṃśuka’ in Sanskrit, meaning ‘what-a parrot?’. The red flower of the tree looks like the beak of a parrot - and this is explicitly referred to in the Sanskrit poem ‘Ritusamhara’ attributed to poet Kalidasa(as a work from his youth) : Chap 6, verse 20 - kiṃ kiṃśukaiḥ śukamukha-cchavibhir na bhinnam (‘Are not their hearts torn by the kimsuka flowers which are like parrot beaks?’)

Here’s a picture from wikipedia:


Right! BB notes:

The similarity of its flowers to meat is the theme of a humorous poem at Vism 196,5–15 (Ppn 6:91–92), about a jackal who chanced upon a kimsuka and rejoiced at finding “a meat-bearing tree".

Hang on, you’re right. I had assumed it was kiṁ + su + ka, where su is an interrogative particle. Constructions like kaṁ su, kiṁ su and the like are common. But yes, it should be kiṁ suka “what parrot”, along the lines of kinnarī “what lady?” (a kind of fairy).

Ven Bodhi also gets this wrong:

Kimsuka means literally “what’s it?” The name may have originated from an ancient Indian folk riddle.

Given this, I should probably translate it with the common name of “parrot tree”. This would also work in terms of the pun, as it’s a tree that looks like parrots!


I think this comment by Ven. Bodhi is what confused me completely, it should be the seedpods that are like meat?

The flowers are like parrots.

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Also, I had previously used the modern Hindi word palash for this tree when it is called palāsa in Pali. But I notice that sources say the tree is associated with Agni, and that the word palāsa especially refers to the flame-like flowers. So i’ll use:

  • kimsuka = parrot tree
  • palāsa = flame-of-the-forest

Finally I decided to use the English names, even if these are not described as names for this tree in German. But they just have such a nice connection to the images evoked.

So with the next update you will find a “Papageienbaum” and a “Flamme des Waldes”. :parrot: :fire:

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Ah, this sounds already very nice and brings a nice optical association!