Bark, wood, leaves and seeds of the candle bush are all used medicinally; phenolic compounds from the pulverised leaves have been found to be anti-fungal, particularly against ringworm, and anti-bacterial helping the healing of skin. Like many species of Senna, it is also useful as a laxative. This is a large shrub to four metres tall, now found in Africa and Asia, eastwards to Malaysia, though it originated in Mexico. It is the seedpods (not shown in the painting) that are winged, and give the plant its Latin name, as the upright, candle-like flower spikes suggest the English name.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his daughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.