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Udumbara Blooms Every 3,000 Years, Just Like in 2008

It is written in Buddhist lore that the udumbara flower blooms only once every three thousand years.” It is written, but does that make it so?

It is being reported that a Buddhist nun has found little udumbara flowers growing underneath her washing machine. According to what is written in lore, that would be a sign of great fortune to the world, and perhaps even a sign of the coming of a new Buddha.

In the world beyond what’s written, people may wonder how a flower can grow underneath a washing machine. The obvious answer is that it can’t. Flowers need light and soil to grow. What that nun found under her washing machine was almost certainly a set of lacewing eggs, which are laid at the end of strong filaments, leading the imaginative to see them as tiny white flowers.

There is such a thing as an udumbara flower, actually. It grows on a fig tree, Ficus racemosa. It’s very small, so it’s hard to see, but the flowers do appear every year.

Buddhist literalists will insist that’s wrong, and that the udumbara flower appears only once every 3,000 years. How would anyone know that, though, given that writing itself is only a few thousand years old, and reliable calendars have not been kept for that long? The udumbara flower is said to have flowered at the time of the birth of Siddhartha Guatama, more than 2,500 years ago. Is there any record of botanical details, such as rates of fig tree flowering, dating from 5,500 years ago?

Besides, the recent historical record shows that well-publicized sightings of udumbara flowers take place every few years. There’s a photograph of some from 2008. There were sightings of udumbara flowers in Korea in 2007. Udumbara flowers on a Buddhist statue were found on 2005. Another recent sighting of the flowers was in 1997.

If the udumbara flowers are so rare, coming into our plane of existence only once in 3,000 years, how come people keep on seeing them so often? Is it because of a warp in the fabric of spacetime?

3 comments to Udumbara Blooms Every 3,000 Years, Just Like in 2008

  • Dr. Douglas Yanega

    Two notes: (1) Those *are* lacewing eggs under the washing machine. They have hatched, and the eggshell burst, making them look like small flowers. (2) The flowers of Ficus racemosa are not hard to see because they’re small, but because – as in all figs – the flowers are hidden from view on the INSIDE of the fruit.

  • Dr. Douglas Yanega

    Yes, there are several lineages of wasps that have evolved along with the figs, in an obligate pollination syndrome; aside from those figs that are self-fertile, all figs can only be pollinated by these wasps, and the wasps in turn cannot complete their life cycles without the figs. There are many species of figs, and even more species of these wasps. A fair number of the relationships are species-specific (a single wasp matched to a single fig), though in most cases a single fig species will host several different wasps (the wasps, however, rarely visit more than one species of fig). The female wasps do not “burrow”, but squeeze through the aperture of the unripe fig, pollinate the flowers inside and lay eggs in the developing seeds. After the larvae reach adulthood, the wingless sons will dig exit holes in the ripe fig, through which the winged daughters will escape, carrying pollen to another fig to continue the cycle.

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