Magnolia champaca: Champak

Family: Magnoliaceae
Common name: Champaca, Champak, Chembakam, Champa, Golden champa, Joy perfume tree, Yellow jade orchid tree, Fragrant Himalayan champaca, Sampige

A single Champaca tree in your garden can spread its heady, heavenly perfume all over your neighborhood, for many months during its flowering season. The trees can grow to a height of 30-50 meters with a well-branched trunk and cylindrical or rounded crown.

Champaca trees have large green leaves that are 20-35 cms long, spirally arranged with wavy margins. They have short petioles, and they leave a scar on the stem when the leaves fall off.

These trees flower at the beginning of summer in India, filling the tree with beautiful, showy yellow flowers, and the entire area with its heavenly scent. Flowers are about 2-4.5 cms long, opening up fully to resemble an octopus when it matures.

The tree later produces bunches of oval, pockmarked fruits containing 2-6 small seeds that are surrounded by pink or white flesh. The heady scent of the flowers attracts small birds, bees, insects, and butterflies that help pollinate the flowers.

Essential oils extracted from flowers are used in perfumery. The second most popular perfume in the world, called Joy, is made from Champaca flower extracts giving the tree its name Joy perfume tree.

Champaca trees are native to South Asia and South China but are now grown as ornamental trees in many tropical countries around the world. In India, the tree has some religious significance since the flowers are used to adorn deities in temples.

They are also worn on the hair, used in decorations during weddings and other ceremonies. Champaca flowers are placed in water bowls to spread fragrance throughout the house. These flowers are also used for making oils for hair and body massage.

There are 3 main varieties like Magnolia champaca var. champaca which is the shorter variant that only grows 20-30 meters; Magnolia champaca var. pubinervia, which grows to 50 meters; and the very popular Magnolia × alba having white flowers, a cross between Magnolia champaca and Magnolia montana.

Yellow and white variants of Champaca flowers are equally popular in India as ornamental trees, but the yellow variant, also called Golden champa has more religious significance.

Though Champak trees are mostly grown as ornamental trees, they also have some medicinal uses. They are used in the treatment of fever, leprosy, stomach ailments, and skin diseases. The flowers are used to extract a yellow dye.

The wood is dark brown, durable, and even-grained, making it a good choice for making furniture, cabinets, and carvings. Champak trees are reasonably fast-growing and are used in reforestation projects.

Propagation is through seeds, and grafting, the grafted trees bearing flowers and fruits much quicker than the trees grown from seeds.