Mesua ferrea, the Sri Lankan ironwood, Indian rose chestnut, or cobra’s saffron, is a species in the family Calophyllaceae. This slow-growing tree is named after the heaviness and hardness of its timber. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental due to its graceful shape, grayish-green foliage with a beautiful pink to red flush of drooping young leaves, and large, fragrant white flowers. It is native to wet, tropical parts of Sri Lanka, India, southern Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, the Philippines, Malaysia and Sumatra, where it grows in evergreen forests, especially in river valleys. In the eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats in India it grows up to altitudes of 1,500 m (4,900 ft), while in Sri Lanka up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). It is national tree of Sri Lanka and state flower of Tripura and Mizoram.
As the English name indicates, the wood of this tree is very heavy, hard and strong. The density is 940 to 1,195 kg/m3 (59 to 75 lb/ft3) at 15% moisture content. The colour is deep dark red. It is hard to saw and is mainly used for railroad ties and heavy structural timber.
In Sri Lanka the pillars of the 14th century Embekke Shrine near Kandy are made of iron tree wood.
The flowers, leaves, seeds and roots are used as herbal medicines in India, Malaysia, etc. and in Nag Champa incense sticks.
In eastern state of Assam, India, its seeds were also used for lighting purpose in evening for day to day purpose (while mustard oil for religious and health and culinary purposes) before the introduction of kerosene by the British.
The tree can grow over 30 m (98 ft) tall, often buttressed at the base with a trunk up to 2 m (6 ft 7 in) in diameter. The bark of younger trees has an ash grey color with flaky peelings, while of old trees the bark is dark ash-grey with a red-brown blaze. It has simple, opposite, narrow, oblong to lanceolate, blue-grey to dark green leaves that are 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in) long and 1.5–3.5 cm (0.59–1.38 in) wide, with a whitish underside.