Sunday, July 25, 2021

Plant Story--Ixora, Flame of the Woods

Venturing from my Colorado home into the tropics, practically all of the plants change. It has always worked best for me to learn the plant and then learn its proper name. Consequently red-balls-of-flowers-that-look-like-grappling-hooks eventually becomes ixora.  I've recognized ixora a long time, but only recently gotten a proper name on it. 


Ixora is also ixora's scientific name. Ixora is a genus of over 500 species, in the coffee family, Rubiaceae. They are mostly tropical, occasionally subtropical. The species I'm familiar with, mainly Ixora coccineais hardy only to USDA Zone 9, surviving at most a light frost. The websites say you can grow the plants as annuals, and the big merchants certainly sell them this far north.

Some of my books use ixora as the common name, but I also find West Indian jasmine, jungle geranium, flame of the woods, and jungle flame. I am happy calling it ixora. While ixora has naturalized all over the Caribbean, it is not native there, so West Indian jasmine is a misleading name (and it is not in the same plant family as jasmine (Jasminum olive family, Oleaceae). Likewise it is not a geranium (plant family Geraniaceae). Call it ixora.

The commonly grown ixora species are shrubs with leathery leaves, the plants usually pruned short or, in Asia, planted close together as hedges. 


I am drawn to the ones with red and red-orange flowers, but you can find them in colors from pink to white.

Butterfly on ixora

The plants are covered with flowers for months (year-round if there's no frost). They have woody stems with a dense attractive wood. The wood is too small for most projects but lets the plants be shaped as bonsai. They are attractive to butterflies!


Native to India and adjacent areas, ixora has been grown across Asia for millennia, and has quite different names in different languages (for example this list link). Ixora flowers are sacred in Hinduism. Red and white ixora flowers are the flowers of choice to honor the Lord Vishnu. The scientific name, Ixora, is a Portuguese version of isvara, Sanskrit for Lord, referring to Shiva. Alternately, you can read that ixora is from Iswari, one of the names of the goddess Parvati, to whom ixora is also sacred. 

The species epithet, coccinea, means scarlet. 

Asian medical traditions--Ayurvedic, Chinese, and folk medicines across the region--use ixora species including Ixora coccinea in many treatments. Leaves, flowers, stems, and roots are used in different preparations, as an antiseptic, a sedative, and to treat dysentery, fever, headache, and colic, among other things. Recent studies have supported the efficacy of a number of those treatments. 

Though not an important food, the red ixora fruit is edible, when fully ripe. The flowers can be used as a condiment. 

looking down on ixora hedge
Looking down on ixora hedge

And, all across the tropics and subtropics, people grow it for its nice foliage and bright flowers. 

Ixora is a handsome, useful plant, rich in traditions. 

Comments and corrections welcome.


Chabert-Llompart J, 2017. Ixora coccinea flame-of-the-woods. Invasive Species Compendium. Accessed 7/20/21 Cabi concludes minimal potential as an invasive. 

Ixora coccinea. Missouri Plant Finder. link  Accessed 7/23/21

Ixora. Wikipedia link Accessed 7/20/21

Manjeshwar, S. B. and J. K. Poruthukaran. 2012. Ixora coccinea Linn.: traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Chin J Integr Med. 2012 Jan;18(1):72-9. via Pub. Med. Accessed 7/20/21.

Prasad, S. 2020, The West Indian jasmine flower aka jungle flames. Things Guyana blog. link Accessed 7/23/21

Ramanathan, A. R. 2012. General - Flowers offered to various deities, planets and the stars - constellationsts. Hints from Hindu Religion blog link Accessed 7/23/21

Red Ixora. Flowers of India. link Accessed 7/23/21

S., Kavitha. 2013. Wonders of My Garden -- Ixora or The Jungle Flames (see whats with the name). My Journey Begins Here. blog. link

Ysrael, M.C. and J.L.C.H. van Valkenburg 2016. Ixora_PROSEA_Medicinal_plants

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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1 comment:

  1. Back in India, the children used to pluck the Ixora flowers and "drink" the nectar. It's very sweet, though barely a drop in each flower >)