Nyctanthes arbor-tristis is a shrub or a small tree growing to 10 m (33 ft) tall, with flaky grey bark. The leaves are opposite, simple, 6–12 cm (2.4–4.7 in) long and 2–6.5 cm (0.79–2.56 in) broad, with an entire margin. The flowers are fragrant, with a five- to eight-lobed white corolla with an orange-red centre; they are produced in clusters of two to seven together, with individual flowers opening at dusk and finishing at dawn. The fruit is a bilobed, flat brown heart-shaped to round capsule2 cm (0.79 in) diameter, each lobe containing a single seed.
The tree is sometimes called the “tree of sorrow”, because the flowers lose their brightness during daytime; the scientific name arbor-tristis also means “sad tree”. The flowers can be used as a source of yellow dye for clothing. The flower is called Gangaseuli and some where Jharaa sephali in Odisha, India. In the Borok Tipruri culture, it is associated with the cycle of life, i.e., birth and dying. It is popularly used as a garland for the dead.
The flower is the official flower of the state of West Bengal, and of Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand. It is known as Parijat, Shefali and Siuli around West Bengal. Nyctanthes arbor-tristis is commonly known as night-flowering jasmine and coral jasmine. It is referred to as Har-shringaar in Bihar‘s Mithilanchal and Madhesh. It is called Xewālee (Xewālee, শেৱালী) in Assamese, while in Sri Lanka, it is called Sepalika (සේපාලිකා). In Karnataka it is called parijatha(ಪಾರಿಜಾತ), In Telugu it is called parijatam పారిజాతం,Kerala, where it is called Pavizhamalli (പവിഴമല്ലി) in Malayalam, Pavazhamalli (பவழ மல்லி) in Tamil, paardak (पार्दक) in Konkani, prajakta (प्राजक्त) in Marathi. In Myanmar, it is called Seikphaloo ( my:ဆိပ်ဖလူး ). It is used for pujas and similar ceremonies . It also has importance in old Malayalam romantic songs.