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Image: chinhphap

Youtan Poluo growing on Buddha statue.

The myth that has grown up around the plant called the Youtan Poluo or Udumbara has clung on almost as stubbornly as the nonexistent roots with which the plant itself clings on. Said to bloom only once every 3,000 years, this occasion is supposed to mark the arrival of a future king. Let’s see how much truth there is in this fairytale.

The tiny white flowers on filigree stems are actually not much to look at and could easily be overlooked. Honestly, would you look twice if you found something like this growing in your house? Good that Mr. Ding, a farmer of China’s northeastern Liaoning province, was more observant and curious when he was cleaning the steel pipes in his garden.


Image: fisherwy

Mr. Ding with the “flowers” growing on steel pipes in his garden.

That well publicized discovery in 2007 triggered many more in Taiwan, Korea, the US and Germany. Since then, some of the mysterious flowers have been identified as the eggs of lacewings – whose females lay their eggs on threadlike stalks, similar to human hairs, to keep them apart and thus prevent cannibalism among the aggressive young after hatching.

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Image: Luis Fernandez Garcia

Lacewing eggs.

End of story for many but we here at Environmental Graffiti like to dig deeper. Because some of the flowers like the ones below could not be identified as lacewing eggs. They have a stem with branches and emit a distinct smell of sandalwood – and these indeed have been identified as the Udumbara flower of the Ficus racemosa tree.

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