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All About Sri Lanka’s National Flower: The Nil Manel (Blue Water Lily)

From the bustling streets of Colombo to the serene beaches of Galle, Sri Lanka, also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, is a haven of rich cultural heritage and diverse ecosystems.

Among the many treasures that the island holds, one stands out for its exquisite beauty and cultural significance – the Nil Manel, Sri Lanka’s national flower.

Intrigued? Dive in with us as we unfold the mystical tale of this aquatic beauty and its deep-rooted connection with Sri Lanka’s history and identity.

Description of The Nil Manel

The Nil Manel, botanically recognized as Nymphaea stellata, is a manifestation of nature’s true elegance. Blooming in various hues of pink, blue, and white, it proudly boasts a magenta core with a golden center. Each bloom measures 7-20 cm in diameter and is adorned with four sepals and numerous petals that vary in size and color. The petals often radiate a delicate whitish-violet or light blue shade, and occasionally a pinkish-purple.

The flower’s name holds deep significance. Derived from the Greek word “nymphaia”, meaning water lily, and the Latin “stellatus”, signifying star, it paints a vivid picture. Imagine a serene lake carpeted with these star-like flowers, creating a mesmerizing celestial canvas on Earth. Indeed, in such surroundings, the flower does appear like countless stars gracing the watery expanses.

Blooming with the first light of dawn, the Nil Manel’s petals unfurl to reveal their beauty, capturing the essence of a fresh morning. Remarkably, these flowers thrive without a specific blooming season, presenting their charm from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. almost every day. Rooted deep in muddy waters, the Nil Manel showcases nature’s genius at its best – drawing sustenance from the murkiest of habitats to emerge pure and pristine.

Sri Lanka Nil Manel

Where Does The Nil Manel Grow?

Endemic to the serene landscapes of Sri Lanka, the Nil Manel thrives in freshwater environments, painting a picturesque scene across the island nation. Primarily found in shallow waters, this enchanting water lily can be spotted embellishing lakes, ponds, and marshlands throughout the low country regions of Sri Lanka.

The preferred habitat for the Nil Manel is one that boasts a mix of calm and warm waters coupled with plenty of sunlight. These shallow aquatic regions, often dotted with soft mud and silt at the bottom, provide an ideal anchoring ground for the plant’s roots.

While the Nil Manel is intrinsically Sri Lankan, its botanical lineage, Nymphaea stellata, can be traced to various other regions of South and East Asia, suggesting a wider original geographic range.

The Nil Manel in The Ecosystem

Beyond its aesthetic allure, the Nil Manel plays a pivotal role in the ecosystem it inhabits. For starters, the flower, with its expansive floating leaves, offers shade and protection to various aquatic species, providing them with a safe sanctuary from predators. This canopy-like shield also aids in regulating water temperature, ensuring that the ecosystem remains balanced.

Furthermore, the flower is a source of sustenance for numerous animals. While the beautiful petals might be a feast for the eyes, the seeds and tubers of the Nil Manel serve as a delicacy for local aquatic fauna. In fact, in certain rural parts of Sri Lanka, these very seeds and tubers are harvested by villagers and consumed as a nutritious vegetable.

Moreover, the flower’s presence aids in oxygenating the water, promoting healthier aquatic life and maintaining the overall health of the water body. By preventing excessive sunlight from penetrating the water surface, the Nil Manel reduces the growth rate of harmful algae, which could otherwise disrupt the aquatic balance.

Sri Lanka Nil Manel

Symbolism and Meaning: Why and When Did The Nil Manel Become the National Flower of Sri Lanka?

On the 26th of February, 1986, amidst the rich diversity of flora and fauna that decorate the emerald isle of Sri Lanka, the Nil Manel was chosen to represent the nation as its national flower. But why was this delicate aquatic flower selected from the many floral wonders of the country?

The Nil Manel, or Blue Water Lily, is not just another beautiful flower; it carries with it profound symbolic weight. Often regarded as a symbol of truth, purity, and discipline, its pristine petals reflect the core values held dear by the Sri Lankan people.

The flower’s roots, deeply embedded in the mud yet producing a bloom of unmatched beauty, are reminiscent of the country’s history—grounded in rich traditions but always striving for progress and purity.

The connection between the Nil Manel and Sri Lankan culture can be traced back to ancient times. Historical records, including the iconic Sigiriya frescoes, showcase Apsaravas, celestial nymphs, holding these very flowers in their hands—a testament to the flower’s long-standing cultural significance. Furthermore, its links with Buddha and its use in various ceremonies throughout history solidify its revered status in Sri Lanka.

Where is The Nil Manel Featured in Sri Lanka?

The national status of the Nil Manel means it graces various official and cultural representations in Sri Lanka.

For many years, due to misidentification, the violet-colored Dam Manel was mistakenly promoted as the national flower, finding its way onto presidential greeting cards, postage stamps, and even school textbooks. However, in recent times, efforts have been made to correct this oversight and ensure the rightful Blue Water Lily gets its due recognition.

In the day-to-day life of the Sri Lankan populace, the Nil Manel holds a special place. It can be found ornamenting temples during religious ceremonies and festivals. The flower’s ethereal beauty, combined with its symbolic resonance, makes it a popular choice for special occasions, be it weddings, religious festivals, or national celebrations.

While not directly featured on the national flag or currency, the flower’s influence permeates cultural, religious, and everyday life in Sri Lanka, making it an enduring emblem of the nation’s identity.

Names of The Nil Manel

The Nil Manel, known scientifically as Nymphaea stellata, is a flower that goes by several names. Its title, “Nil Manel,” translates to “Blue Water Lily” in Sinhalese.

The Tamil community has its own names for this aquatic beauty: “Kamalam” and “Alli Tamarei”. Apart from these regional names, it is also globally recognized as the “Star Water Lily,” owing to the Latin term “stellatus,” which means star.

This is fitting since a lake adorned with this plant gives the appearance of a sky filled with stars, with the leaves and flowers shimmering on the water’s surface.

Sri Lanka Nil Manel

Interesting Facts About The Nil Manel

  1. Cultural Artifacts: The Sigiriya frescoes, ancient artworks in Sri Lanka, depict celestial nymphs or Apsaravas holding the Nil Manel, showing its long-standing significance in Sri Lankan culture.
  2. Day Bloomer: Unlike some flowers that shy away from the sun, the Nil Manel blooms almost the entire day, opening with the first sun rays and closing around 5 p.m.
  3. Medicinal Uses: Historically, various parts of the Nil Manel, including its seeds and tubes, have been used in herbal medicine by locals.
  4. A Versatile Delicacy: Not just a treat for the eyes, the seeds and tubes of the flower are often consumed as a vegetable in Sri Lanka.
  5. Nature’s Artist: The Nil Manel exhibits varying shades when in bloom. While its primary color is blue, it can sometimes manifest in shades of pink, white, and magenta with a vivid yellow center.

How to Grow The Blue Water Lily

Growing the Nil Manel isn’t a herculean task (if you take note of its tropical origin), but there are certain conditions it prefers:

  • Water Depth: As an aquatic plant, it thrives in shallow water. Lakes, ponds, or marshlands are its natural habitats.
  • Sunlight: The Nil Manel is sun-loving. It requires plenty of sunlight for optimal growth and for its flowers to bloom to their fullest potential.
  • Soil: Rich, loamy soil that can retain moisture is ideal. Since it’s an aquatic plant, the soil at the base of the water body should be fertile and dense enough to anchor the plant.
  • Watering Schedule: Being a water lily, the Nil Manel doesn’t need traditional watering. However, if planted in a controlled environment like a pond, ensure the water levels remain consistent.
  • Maintenance: While the plant doesn’t require rigorous care, ensuring that the water is clean and free from pollutants will aid in its healthy growth.

For those wishing to add a touch of Sri Lankan beauty to their ponds or water gardens, the Nil Manel stands as an exquisite choice. Its low maintenance combined with its captivating beauty makes it a popular pick among gardening enthusiasts.

Sri Lanka Nil Manel

Other Beautiful Flowers Native to Sri Lanka

  • Vesak Orchid (Dendrobium maccarthiae): A true testament to Sri Lanka’s vibrant floral diversity, the Vesak Orchid dazzles with its pink-and-crimson hues. Named after the Vesak festival that celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing away, this flower holds cultural significance.
  • Binara (Exacum trinervium): This delicate blue flower, commonly found in the highlands of Sri Lanka, blooms around the time of the Binara full moon poya day, marking a significant event in the Buddhist calendar.
  • Ma Rath Mal (Rhododendron arboreum zeylanicum): This species of rhododendron is unique to Sri Lanka. With its brilliant crimson blossoms, it’s a sight to behold in the country’s montane forests.
  • Olu (Nymphaea pubescens): Another stunning water lily native to Sri Lanka. The Olu, with its pristine white petals and golden heart, is a symbol of purity and is often used in religious and cultural ceremonies.
  • Nelum (Nelumbo nucifera): Commonly known as the Sacred Lotus, the Nelum holds spiritual significance in Buddhist rituals. Found in pink and white shades, it often adorns temples and other sacred sites throughout Sri Lanka.

Frequently Asked Questions

Was there confusion regarding Sri Lanka’s national flower?

Yes. In 1986, when the Nil Manel was declared the national flower, there was a mix-up where an introduced violet variant, known as “dam manel,” was mistakenly promoted as the national emblem in various official publications.

Why is the Nil Manel considered significant in Sri Lanka?

The Nil Manel is viewed as a symbol of truth, purity, and discipline. It also has historical and cultural ties, with depictions in ancient artworks and its association with Buddha.

Are there other national symbols of Sri Lanka?

Absolutely! The national bird of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii), while the national tree is the Ironwood (Mesua ferrea), known locally as “Naa.”

With the hybridizing of the blue and violet lilies, has there been any talk of changing the national flower?

The hybridization has indeed added to the complexity of distinguishing between the two. Some voices in Sri Lanka have called for selecting a new national flower, though as of now, the Nil Manel remains the nation’s floral emblem.

Can I grow Nil Manel outside of Sri Lanka?

Yes, the Nil Manel can be cultivated outside Sri Lanka, provided it’s given suitable aquatic conditions, warm temperatures, ample sunlight, and the right soil.

Other National Symbols of Sri Lanka

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