Tabernaemontana divaricata


The phrase tabernaemontana divaricata hardly rolls effortlessly off the tongue. Surely it should have a more sensible name?

The art of ineptitude is alive and well

I wish I actually knew what I was talking about. Unfortunately, with many things I often tend to make it up as I go along. Iím sure Iím not alone in that regard. Even so-called experts in their field have been known to be somewhat lacking in expertise; itís just that some are able to hide their ineptitude better than others.

How many times have you taken your car to the local repair shop to have the greasy-overalled mechanic bloke lift the bonnet and immediately do that sharp intake of air through pursed lips thing that mechanics evidently go to night school to master. ďI donít like the look of thatĒ, heíll say. On further questioning it will become evident that youíll need to spend money just to find out what the problem is. In other words, he hasnít the faintest idea.

Clueless shop assistants are frustrating at times too. Is it just me that gets a tad irritated when you go into a shop and ask them why this digital camera is better than that digital camera, and all they do is get out the instruction book or read the box? Even I could have done that.

Iíve had some big problems with my internet connection in this part of the world, as I think have many residents of Phuket who are foolhardy enough to attempt to get online. Consider this exchange between myself and the customer service department of an internet service provider, who werenít exactly excelling in the way of customer service at the time my internet was down.

After about ten or fifteen minutes of being passed around along, with various advice from various customer services agents in varying degrees of befuddlement, we get as far as a lovely-sounding lady saying ďThe internet is working nowĒ. I check. It is Ė just.

ďOK, but it wasnít working when I called you, ten minutes ago.Ē I reply.  ďWhat was the problem, anyway? Have you fixed it?Ē

ďThere isnít a problem now. The next time there is a problem, Iíll email you about itĒ, she helpfully responds.

ďBut I wonít be able toÖ Never mind. Thank you very muchĒ.

Iím so glad our phone conversation was Ďbeing recorded for quality assurance purposesí.

At least you can get through though. Itís totally impossible to call your local bank in the UK now Ė all you can do is call a national number (which they inevitably charge you for) so that you can speak to some clueless buffoon in Ipswich about the overdraft you discussed with your bank manager in Yorkshire just last week. They havenít a clue; you can hardly expect them to.

As somebody the Gazette tosses the odd shekel towards every now and then to supposedly ramble on about gardening, I really should be able to pick out most of the green growing stuff in the region and put some kind of name to it. But not always.

Thereís this bush growing in my garden that I took this picture of about three years ago, and itís only today that Iíve actually found out what itís called Ė seriously. I do feel that Iíve got a couple of very valid excuses though: 1, As I mentioned earlier, I havenít a clue, and 2, the term tabernaemontana divaricata hardly rolls effortlessly off the tongue.

Otherwise known as the pinwheel jasmine, or pud-doom in Thai, this cute bush (not the only cute bush on the island) is native to India and Southeast Asia. There are actually about 140 species of tabernaemontana scattered around the tropics, but the pinwheel jasmine is one of the more common. Itís only fragrant at night and the flowers are strangely visible in moonlight.

The pinwheel jasmine is one of the most reliable of the shrub bloomers with an impressive display of flowers every day of the year. It can grow to two or three meters in height but is in no particular rush to get there.

Itís perfectly happy in either sun or shade Ė about the only thing to remember is not to plant this thing any closer than a couple of meters of any cement structure that matters. Tabernaemontana divaricata and house foundations donít mix well.

The many branches tend to grow almost parallel to the ground giving the shrub an attractive, slightly weird-looking horizontal look As it happens, the species name, divaricata, means Ďat an obtuse angleí, but that may well be referring to the flowers.

Pruning isnít particularly necessary as this thing is relatively well-behaved, but you might want to give it a trim every once in a while. Like many members of this family, the stems of the plant exude a greasy, milky latex when broken. Related to the rubber tree in some way maybe? I donít know Ė ask somebody who actually knows about this kind of stuff.

Anyway, the large shiny leaves are a deepish green and are about 15 cm in length and around 5 cm wide. The waxy blossoms are white five-petaled pinwheel things, which appear in small clusters on the stem tips. 

You can propagate the pinwheel jasmine from seed (though Iím not sure Iíve ever seen them) or by cuttings from newish growth. Or you can do it like the rest of us and pay a visit to the local garden centre. Far more sensible, really.

In some forms of Thai medicine, pinwheel jasmine is apparently used as an analgesic and sedative, and in both South America and Africa, extracts of the plants are used as stimulants. Quite how the same plant can be used as both a sedative and a stimulant Iím not sureÖ Perhaps yet another example of experts making it up as they go along?

Also, pharmacological research of the alkaloids in tabernaemontana plants show promise in helping interrupt addiction to opiates, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol. Personally, given the choice of a fag (cigarette, before any confused transatlantic types email me) and a Heineken or chewing on one of these plants, I know which option would win out.

The pinwheel jasmine plant should be used as a feature. Itís brilliant for lighting up a shady corner or located near an area used for night entertaining. As it has a kind of layered growth habit, it would even work on one of those trendy Japanese style gardens. The white pinwheel-like blooms with their tiny yellow centers are individually small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

Should you decide you actually want to go off and buy one of these, you can be pretty sure that the little man who greets you wonít consult the seed packet from which it was grown before answering your questions. He actually does know what heís talking about. Me? I havenít a clue.



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