The orchid tree is a medium-sized tree(1,5,7) native to many different habitats in South Asia, Southeast Asia, southern China, and Japan(1,2,5,7,8). Admired for its large, fragrant, and beautiful purple, pink, lavender, red, or blue orchid-like flowers(3,5,7), the orchid tree is also special because of an amazing talent. Like some other plants, it spreads its seeds by shooting them away from itself, and it may hold the record for best seed-thrower: it can propel its seeds as far as 15 meters (49 feet) away(6)! Aside from these special characteristics, the orchid tree has been valuable to people throughout history as a source of medicines. In countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, parts of the orchid tree (including the bark, roots, and flowers) are used in traditional treatments for a wide variety of health problems from wounds to stomach cancer (5,8). Scientists who have studied the chemistry of the orchid tree to try to discover what gives the plant its medicinal properties have shown that it contains many chemicals that act in beneficial ways on the body; these include chemicals that reduce pain, chemicals that fight certain bacterial infections, healthy chemicals called antioxidants, and even chemicals with cancer-fighting effects (5,8). In addition to being used as medicine, though, the orchid tree is an important source of food and other products(1,2,5,7). In some cultures, people eat the fruit(1,2,5), seeds(2,5), leaves(1), flowers(1), and flower buds(1) of the tree, and in places such as Nepal, the leaves make healthy meals for domestic animals like sheep, cattle, goats, and buffalo(1,4,5,7).
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