Bali is a rich in flora. One of the first things visitors will notice is the amount of trees, even in downtown areas. In the foothills of the large volcanoes, Gunung Agung, Gunung Batur, Gunung Batukaru etc. it is possible to look out and see nothing but a carpet of green. Balinese people use trees and flower in their religious worship and locals can be seen outside their houses yanking blooms from a tree using a bamboo pole with a knife attached to the end. Long ago Bali was covered in forest and jungle including areas in Legian and Seminyak. Rum Jungle Rd used to be jungle and required a certain amount of bush whacking in order to get to the beach. Village temples often contain some of the last remaining tall trees, Balinese culture identifying the (beringin) as a symbol of immortality. A banyan tree can be found growing next to almost every village temple in Bali.
Balinese Agama Hindi teaches that the large trees are inhabited by spirits and demons. Visitors to Bali will often see the base of large trees wrapped in holy cloth, highlighting its significance. As well as the massive banyan trees, with their thick, dangling roots, another sacred tree is the milk wood tree (pule / Alstonia), which has a soft wood making is a favourite for the carvers of the witch-like Rangda masks. The milk wood tree is believed to contain the spirit of Durga, the goddess of death. Balinese people also believe that witches gather at the base of the silk-cotton tree (kepuh / Bombax).
The floral emblem of Bali is the flower of the majegau tree (Dysoxylum densiflorum). The mahogany-like tree has a sweet smelling wood that has exceptional strength and beauty. It is only used for royal cremation towers, such as the one used in Ubud a couple of years ago, or for sacred buildings. The majegau is somewhat scarce these days.
The trunk of banana trees are used in Balinese ceremonies as a center piece for the fruit bantens. Balinese women skewer colorful fruits, then stick them into the central banana tree trunk. Balinese people believe banana trees cleanse an area of evil spirits. The site of the Paddys Bar bombing was covered in banana trees directly afterwards.
Flower species common in Bali include fragipani, cananga, hydrangea, bougainvillea, hibiscus and champak. The brightly colored leaves being used to create canang, the square floral trays off offerings placed in doorways and at intersections to ward off evil spirits and on shrines as offerings to the gods. Lotus flowers, which were originally associated with Buddhism, have been adopted by Balinese Agama Hindu gracing gardens and wetlands.
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Trees and plants found in Bali that are used in everyday life include banana, bamboo, sugar cane, betel leaf, coconut and areca nut. These are put to limitless uses, including household utensils, plate liners, housing, hats, drainage and other uses. The lontar manuscripts are engraved on specially dried plan leaves.
The neem tree (intaran / Azadirachta indica) grows in the drier parts of Bali. Originally imported from India centuries ago by traders, the tree has an oil which is a natural insect repellent. Traditional Indian medicine makes use of its leaves, roots, bark and seeds.
Most of Bali’s teak forests have been wiped out. Today most of the teak comes from East Java and Lombok. The ironwood and meranti comes from Kalimantan (another area with severe deforestation in the lowland areas). Driving along quieter lanes in the Ubud area, one will see locals carving items for the tourist industry, sitting at the side of the road next to a pile of wood. The wood carving industry in Bali requires 50,000 cubic meters of wood per year, but with only a few thousand hectares of forest, most of which comes from other islands. Locally produced wood comes from small private plantations of fast growing wood.
Jackfruit is a quality wood used for making drums among other things including shrines. It like many other of the locally favoured woods is now imported from East Java and Sulawesi. The black thatching material, called ijuk, used for Balinese temples is imported from Lombok and Java. Even coconut and bamboos are becoming harder to find, much of that coming from Java. Traditionally the area south of Ubud, particularly the village of Bona, was the location of the best bamboo in Bali. Long and straight, with the same thickness, it is ideal for building. The demand for quality bamboo by villas and hotels means the price goes up and supply is harder to guarantee.
Balinese people use 335 plants and trees for ceremonial construction and offerings. As time goes on these are increasingly harder to find, many coming from other islands.
Neem products are available at Sunrise Organic Market in Kerobokan (0361)735 823. There is also an environmentally friendly company in west Bali, PT Intaran, that produces neem tree oil, which can be used for a variety of products including eco-pesticides, insect repellents and pet shampoos.