The Lodi Garden area has been called Bagh-i-Jud since 13th century, hinting that it was a Bagh or Garden in medieval times as well. Thereafter, it has been a royal burial ground for the Sayyid and Lodi emperors in the first part of 15th century. Its present avatar as a beautiful 90-acre landscaped garden dates back to 1936.
The Garden is home to more than 110 varieties of plants, and 50 species of birds and it is said that after Nairobi in Kenya, Delhi as a city has the largest number of bird species. In the mornings, the park is frequented by joggers, laughter club members, and even Yoga enthusiasts; whereas as the day progresses one can see picnickers, heritage photographers and explorers, and gardeners tending to the flower beds and lawns.
Let us explore then – armed with Pradip Krishen’s book – a small part of this wonder of a natural heritage blooming in the colors of spring.. to appreciate few samples of plants and assimilate few interesting facts on them : a flower-bed of fiercely bright Kanak Champa glowing in the dark shadow of a tree, the wire-brush like flowers of Silky Oak popping out with its limp drooping tassels, and a Buddha’s Coconut tree silhouetted against the 600-year old mighty monuments..
One of the noteworthy projects of Viceroy Willingdon was the restoration and landscaping of Lodi Garden. At the age of 65, Lord Willingdon – appointed as India’s oldest Viceroy from 1931 to 1936 – was an immensely popular man known for his efforts to end the divide between the English and Indian society, and as it is said of him that, “ To any visitor he invariably conveyed the impression that his visitor was the one person on earth he most wanted to see.’ And in his 5 short years as Viceroy, Delhi was swarmed by what is termed as ‘ Willingdonitis’ by Percival Spears : Airport, Stadium, hospital, roads, and parks were named after him and his kin. After relocating the Khairpur village that had grown around the Lodi and Sayyid tombs, the area was landscaped by Lady Willingdon and the park was named as Lady Willingdon Park, located on Ratendone Road named after her son. The park is now renamed as Lodi Garden, and the road as Amrita Shergill Marg. The gardens were re-landscaped by a Japanese team in the 1950’s; and in 1968, architect J.A. Stein made a new plan and added a greenhouse to it.
The plants in the Garden can be classified under: Trees with Jamun-like leaves, Peepal-like leaves, Frangipani-like leaves, Chinar-like leaves, Pine-like leaves, Bael-like leaves, Imli-like leaves, Gulmohar-like leaves, and Palm-like leaves.
Jamun-like leaves category:
Badhal – native to sub Himalayan terai, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. It has small curiously mis-shapen velvety fruit.
Khirk – native to lower Himalayas, it was initially planted in Lutyens’ Bungalows in large numbers, but now has become a rarity in Delhi.
Buddha’s Coconut – native to Western Ghats in India, it is a tall tree with woody obliquely-round coconut-like fruit.
(Seed-Pod of a Buddha’s Coconut – decorated with Mary, Josef and Baby Jesus figurines, on sale in a Budapest market. Photo courtesy: Prof S.R. Sarma )
Goolar and Chamrod – both are native to Delhi.
Goolar, or the Country fig, is unusual in that the figs grow on the trunk. The spherical figs of a Goolar turn red when ripe. It is used for numerous medicinal purposes, and also a sacred plant in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. A lotion made from Goolar’s bark is used to treat wounds inflicted by a tiger’s claws. Bark of the Chamrod is often powdered and mixed with flour as a famine food.
Peepal-like leaves category:
Haldu – native to sub-Himalayan tract
Pilkhan – a common strangler fig with an immense canopy that renews its foliage in spring with a dramatic show of color, it is popularly used as an avenue tree, while its leaves are used as excellent elephant fodder.
Peelu – a desert tree known as the ‘toothbrush tree’ for its twigs’ use to prevent tooth decay and gum diseases. Its leaves are used as cattle fodder, and it is believed that termites like white ants do not attack it.
Arjun – native to Sri Lanka, and dry riverine forests, this majestic plant is un-missable for the sweet fragrance wafting from its off-white flowers. The name ‘Arjuna’ appear in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, meaning “white” and “bright” referring to its off-white flowers. It is therefore not named after Arjuna of the Mahabharata as it is preceded in the Vedas. Its bark is used to make Ayurvedic medicines for many diseases such as that of heart, skin, high blood pressure, etc. Its leaves feed the kosi silkworms used in the production of tasar silk fabric.
Frangipani-like leaves category:
Teak – common in dry and moist forests in peninsular India, as well as Burma, Ghana
Chinar-like leaves category:
Purging Nut – native to Mexico and Caribbean region, its plant and seed are non-edible and poisonous to animals and humans and therefore used as living fences or hedges. In Mauritius, it is planted for mythological reasons to wards off evil spirits.
Kanak Champa – native to sub-Himalayan tract, it is planted for ornamentation. Its pure white and fragrant flowers become exposed when the flower-cup peels backward like a banana. The flower is known as an insect repellant, whereas its bark and leaves are used to cure itching and wounds in folk medicine.
Pine-like leaves category:
Whistling Pine – native to sandy beaches Australia it is commonly found from Burma in the east, to French Polynesia in the west and Australia in south, and this evergreen pine tree is often planted to prevent erosion of sandy soil. The soft singing of air through its hanging green branchlets is a pleasant sound, which lends its common name of Whsitling Pine. With its horse’s tail like leaves and conical fruits, it is often planted as a windbreak.
Roheda – native to dry semi-arid areas, it is believed that the tree can cure skin diseases of children, if their clothes are hung on the tree, and one can find many pieces of torn and old clothes on the solitary Roheda in the garden with its trumpet-like flowers.
Bael-like leaves category:
Dhak – common in a large area ranging from river Jhelum to Myanmar and most of Indo-China, it is known as the ‘Flame of the Forest’. The tree flowers when it is devoid of its leaves, so it looks like a flame tree. Its fiery orange flower is used to manufacture orange dye for Holi by dipping it in water. The tree is cultivated to play host to lac-insects, to produce shellac used as varnish or lacquer. The lac insects feed on the tree sap, and secrete a resinous substance to protect itself. Its inner bark is used to make ropes. In Hindu mythology, the tree is said to be the physical manifestation of Agnidev.
Imli-like leaves category:
Silky Oak – one of the finest flowering plants from Australia with fern-like leaves, and a rich, comb-like distinctive flower-assembly resembling a wire brush blossoming in late spring. It has been traditionally used as a shade plant in tea plantations. The flowers – when open up – attract fruit bats and birds for its rich nectar.
Sita Ashok– one of the most sacred and legendary trees of India, it is a native to East India and SE Asia, and commonly known as the ‘Sorrow-less Tree’ or the ‘Handkerchief Tree’. As per the Ramayan, when Sita was taken captive by Ravana, she took refugee under this beautiful tree in the Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka, hence its name! Its new leaves hanging down in a translucent pink is very unusual. In spring season, its orange and scarlet clusters of flowers turn the tree into an object of beauty.
Kosam– common in Myanmar, Malaysia, Indo-China, C and S India. With startlingly red leaves that turn green with age, its seed oil is used for headaches, and skin diseases.
Gulmohar-like leaves category:
Arlu – also called ‘Midnight Horror’ due to the stink of its night-blooming flowers. Its narrow, downward-curving narrow fruits can grow as much as 4 feet, and hence earn the title of ‘Swords of Damocles’. Native to Indo-Malaysia, its flowers open at night and are pollinated by bats. Its young leaves are cooked as a vegetable in Myanmar, and its bitter-tasting bark is sold as a tonic for stomach upsets in Asian markets.
Jhand – common in C and S India, its bark is often used to make boats, houses, carts etc.
Palm-like leaves category:
Cuban Royal Palm – native to Cuba, mainly used as an ornamental plant around historical monuments.
Wild date Palm – native to dry parts of India, and Sri Lanka. Its juice of this hardy plant is boiled to make palm jiggery, and is fermented to make toddy.
The exploration of the plants of Lodi Garden was led by Kavita Prakash – The Sausage Tree-Nature walks ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Sausage-Tree-Nature-Walks/480484278703144?fref=ts ) , through INTACH, Delhi (http://www.delhiheritagecity.org/) & (https://www.facebook.com/DelhiHeritageCity?fref=ts)
- Trees of Delhi, by Pradip Krishen
- The Splendor of Lodi Road, by Ravi Batra
- The Viceroys and Governors-General of India 1757-1947, by Viscount Mersey