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The scent of rumduol is the scent of a woman. Phka rumduol, phka being the Khmer word for flower, is the national flower of Cambodia. Rumduol has been a beloved bloom of the Khmer people for thousands of years. It graced many of our temples and sculpted female figures are adorned with rumduol in their hair and bodies. They also graced the temples’ colonnades and door frames.
Rumduol is the single most recurring character in Khmer literature. Countless poets, playwrights and lyricists, in the past as in the present, have gone to great lengths to extol the beauty of rumduol the flower and rumduol the woman and sometimes both. In Khmer culture, rumduol is synonymous with women and represents feminine beauty. This doesn’t just apply to literature. Khmers use rumduol and women interchangeably in real life as well. In the past, young women would thread rumduol blooms into body chains to wear before entering temples to receive blessing. But the flower itself bears neither Hindu nor Buddhist connotation. Khmers just simply love rumduol.
Rumduol flower comes from the rumduol plant (sphaerocoryne affinis), which belongs to the annonaceae or soursop family. Rumduol is native to Cambodia, often seen growing wild in semi-dense and secondary vegetation in the plains of country. They are heavily concentrated particularly around Angkor Wat temple. The plant is also cultivated all over the country; they line the streets, in the parks, hotels, cafes and private residences.
Rumduol is a mid-sized tree that can grow up to 15 meters high. Its silver-ish green leaves have a prominent mid-vein and are alternately arranged. The blossoms are white-yellow and reddish-yellow in colors. Each blossom is round and thick with two layers of six petals. When in bloom, three petals open up and the other three stay curving inward. They look waxy, dainty and quite symmetrical.
Rumduol flowers bloom in late afternoon and early evening. They are fragrant, though not quite floral, a hint of musk with a light sweetness. It is a very distinctive scent, not something you would expect a flower to smell like. Late into the evening when their scent intensifies, the smell can get quite heady, and can be detected over long distances. If you’ve ever been anywhere in Cambodia, you have definitely picked up this scent.
Rumduol plant also bears fruit, its season is from December to March. Rumduol fruits are small and round. They are green when young. They turn to dark purple that have a dusty grape-like pruinescene when ripe. Rumduol fruit tastes sour with a slight sweetness. Rumduol timber was used to make bows and other hunting tools in the past. Its bark is used to treat both animal and venomous snake bites and fever. The blooms are used to treat dizziness and nausea, and made into lip wax called kramuon rumduol.
Ladies, if you ever find yourselves in Cambodia, don’t be surprised or offended when some stranger calls you rumduol; it’s a compliment.