Archive for January, 2014

The Diva Bougainvillaea

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 196, Sunday 26 January 2014. 

Greetings! This week’s tropical topics features plants and culture.

Bougainvillaea’s a diva.

Bougainvillaea has always been a puzzle to me, not because of how to spell the plant’s name correctly but also because the plant, surely a female, seems so temperamental, like a diva. One day she’s vibrant with colour, the next day she’s shed her leaves as though sulking and only twigs remain.

So I was thrilled to see the bougainvillaea plants at my cottage have started reviving. Their colours rival a diva’s ball gown. As well as traditional purple they show themselves off in flaming red, bridal white, Victorian ivory, and the pinkish orange of this plant.

Orange Diva by Sasindu Balage (age 4)

Orange Diva by Sasindu Balage (age 4)

It’s not the flower that has the colour (that’s white and small) but the bracts that complement the green leaves. Each cluster of three flowers is usually surrounded by three or six bracts. The bracts seem as fragile as parchment, which is probably why bougainvillaea is sometimes known as the paper flower.

Victorian ivory diva

Victorian ivory diva

Bougainvillaea is a prickly beauty at best but, treated well, she thrives in sunny corners, celebrating her existence with outrageous displays of colour that make her periodic tantrums of leaflessness tolerable. When that happens, as with any diva, we have to wait until she decides to charm us again with her radiance.

Made in Sri Lanka

Since sunburn in Sri Lanka can ruin a holiday it is appropriate that Sri Lanka is also the source of a natural oil to mitigate the harsh effects of the sun’s rays. Step forward Aloe Vera.

Aloe vera oil and plant

Aloe vera oil and plant

Not another diva like Dame Bougainvillaea, although she has a name fit for one. Aloe Vera is a succulent, if prickly, plant; part of the lily family (Liliaceae), and a relative of garlic and onions. Different parts of the plant can be used to treat a body’s maladies and it is used for both internal and external applications.

Aloe Vera contains over 200 active components including many vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, polysaccharide, and fatty acids. The bulk of the Aloe Vera leaf is filled with a clear gel-like substance, which is approximately 99% water.

Man has used aloe therapeutically for over 5,000 years. It is renowned as an adaptogen, something that boosts the body’s natural ability to cope with stress (physical, emotional and environmental stress like pollution).

Aloe is known to soothe and cleanse the digestive tract and help improve digestion. It can help the proper elimination of waste from, and detoxification of, the body. It is an alkaline forming food. It alkalises the body, helping to balance overly acidic dietary habits

Aloe Vera juice may be able to help lower the risk of heart disease, helps boost the immune system and is also an antipyretic which means it is used to reduce or prevent fever. It acts as an analgesic, acting to help relieve pain of wounds, that’s why it’s good for sunburn. It helps supply oxygen to the skin cells, increasing the strength and synthesis of skin tissue and induces improved blood flow to the skin through capillary dilation.

Aloe vera close up

Aloe vera close up

Phew! I didn’t know any of that when I bought this week’s Made in Sri Lanka product. And I didn’t know I actually have this wondrous plant growing in the cottage garden. My plastic bottle of Aloe Vera Oil was produced by an outfit known as Weerarathna Essential Oils Industries at Kananke, inland in the south of Sri Lanka (tel: ++ 94 91 4928763).

It consists of 84% Aloe Vera oil plus 2% each of Gut Well [sic], Kowakka Leaf,  Gingerly, Cow Milk, Ushira, Sandal Woo [sic], Kasta, plus 0.5% each of Kachura, Water lily, Liqurise [sic], Kollan Leaf.

The label states, in very small print: “Aloe Vera Oil made out of the extracts of plants listed above can be applied anywhere on the skin to stop sunburn. It is ideal for massaging. It also helps to cure insomnia, week [sic] memory, severe headaches, mental disabilities, bile, tearing of the eye, etc.”

All that for Rs350 [£ 1.66; US$ 2.69] for 125ml.


Although it sounds like a horrible bodily probe or a punishment, this is a “multi-disciplinary arts festival” and it happens in Colombo from Thursday 30 January to Monday 3 February.

According to a press release, the festival (which was first held last year) “celebrates contemporary literature, music, dance and theatre and brings artists, academics and cultural commentators from Sri Lanka and Europe together.”

There will be author readings, guided walks, talks, panel discussions, dance, drama and musical performances from both Sri Lankan and international artistes held in some unusual venues such as the old Whist Bungalow and its gardens in Mutwal, the Old Town Hall in Pettah; St Peter’s Church in Colombo Fort, and the Rio Cinema & Hotel Complex in Slave Island.

This formidable initiative is supported by Standard Chartered Bank, the British Council, the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institut. More information on 

Memories of Ceylon

Another project to bring Sri Lanka’s culture to wider attention has been inaugurated online, so you don’t have to be in Sri Lanka to appreciate it.

From Dr. R. L. Spittel Collection.

From Dr. R. L. Spittel Collection.

Dominica Sansoni, Sri Lanka’s famous photographer, has begun collecting and uploading photographs from the past that give a revealing insight of a way of life that has almost disappeared.

The project aims to create a digital archive of old photographs of Ceylon from family albums up to the year 1972. Dominic says:  “I think there must be a wealth of material held by the descendants of the old planting/business families overseas who lived in Ceylon and who have old photographs.”

Original uniform of the Ceylon Police Force

Original uniform of the Ceylon Police Force

He is keen that people who have albums and photographs they are willing to have scanned for the site should contact him ([email protected]) The temporary home for the images until they are moved to a dedicated website is:


Guide Time

Sri Lanka (newest edition)

Sri Lanka (newest edition)

For more on Sri Lanka the new edition of my guide book has just been published by Bradt (UK) and Globe Pequot (USA), Check:

Beat regards

Royston Ellis