The green fruit that give the elephant apple (Dillenia indica) its name are eaten and dispersed through the forest by elephants. The pulp is sour and bitter, and is used in pickles and curries. The plant is also used medicinally. Its fruits are said to aid digestion and prevent hair loss, as well as being an antidote to mercury poisoning and a treatment for diabetes. Most parts of the plant contain betulinic acid, which has been found to be a potential anti-cancer agent.
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.