“Just as a flower blossoms after enduring the bitter cold of winter, a dream can only be realized if one is willing to endure the accompanying trials and put forth the necessary effort.”
“Flowers bring hope and comfort to people. People gather where flowers bloom. Flowers bloom because they have deep roots and continue to draw sustenance from the soil. Let us send our roots deeply and firmly into the earth of faith and bring forth wonderful blossoms of hope and happiness! — Daisaku Ikeda.
Plants and flowers are indeed a joy to be around. But do we really need plants in our cities? It is difficult to imagine our cities without streets lined with shady trees. The asphalt, bitumen and concrete of cities soak up the heat throughout the day and make them heat bubbles. Trees not only help in making our cities and villages livable, but also reduce pollution, which to an estimation, corresponds to a 3% corrosion in our GDP (Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli, 2019) and a reduction of 2.6 years in life expectancy in India (Economic Times, June 12, 2019). They bring mental calmness in our daily struggles of life. When we visited Japan in 2012, we were amazed at the importance given to Japanese gardens. In the historic city of Kyoto that prides itself with as many as seventeen UNESCO World Heritage sites, a sight that still makes to the must-do list of visitors is the Arashiyama Bamboo forest, where roaming inside the grove gives an unmatched feel of getting close to mother nature. Even just outside the mind-blowing futuristic city of Tokyo where technology and skyscrapers can overwhelm the visitor in no time, the wooded trail to Kamakura is a welcome relief for locals and visitors alike. Nearer home, there are cities named after groves, such as Ambala, derived from Amb-vala (the land of mangoes) and Hazaribagh (the place of thousand trees). Near Gurgaon where I live, we have the Mangar Bani forest providing green lungs to a city sunk deep in pollution.
Trees are indeed an essential part of our lives. On road sides, we can find sellers positioned themselves under some shady trees with their mobile kiosks selling all sorts of things. A local barber setting up his chair and small shop, a tea-seller with a bench for people to sit and gossip while being served hot tea, few kiosks selling ice-creams or coconuts and water-melons are all too familiar scenes we find under road-side shady trees. Recently I saw a vendor placed himself under a large shady canopy and selling biryani from his Maruti Omni van and doing brisk business. Fruits and vegetable vendors too find a place under a tree to stand all day to sell from their carts. We can find rickshaws and autos conveniently parked under shady trees with groups of drivers chatting while waiting for their next customers. People park their cars under shady canopies to keep their vehicles cool. At few places, we find sacred threads and cloths tied around trees bang in the middle of busy intersections, where people have kept idols and photographs of gods and deities around a peepul or some other scared tree. Some trees have cemented platforms made under them, where random people sit and talk and some even catch a nap. Trees bring people together. A new trend in our cities are vertical gardens that are arranged up metro pillars with stacks of plants, designed to do their bit in filtering the harmful air of pollution. Nurseries line up major roads in Gurgaon with green clothes as roof curtains on their exotic collections of imported and native plants, with plant aficionados buying those green-jewels at great costs.
With environmentalist Kavita Prakash (The Sausage Tree Nature Walks), I had visited Sunder Nursery in Delhi few times to catch glimpses of flowering plants in spring. Indeed, plants producing beautiful flowers with different scents and colors in order to attract pollinating bees and insects open our eyes to the unfathomable variety of nature. Here in this short photo-essay, I combine the tree explorations done in two walks: the first walk was themed on the Shaving Brush Tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum) while the second walk was themed on the Sacred Barna (Crataeva adansonii).
Sunder Nursery is now a delight to walk through and explore nature – with its renovated heritage sites, as well as its collection of some 300 species of trees. It also hosts around eighty bird species and 36 types of butterflies. No one is so sure on how the park, which was originally called as Azim Bagh by the Mughals in 16th century, later came to be known as Sunder or ‘beautiful’. If the park was named after the two monuments, Sunderwala Burj and Sunderwala Mahal, or the monuments were named after the park, is best left to speculation. But one thing that is undisputed is the healing of the soul that the park offers to the visitor. It is as if stepping through a magical door to another world – which activates different set of senses to appreciate birds, butterflies and bees, playful flowers and shining leaves.
The nature walks were great learning trips. On a sunny morning, the trees welcomed us with open hearts, straightened themselves in the shining sun to showcase their best features as if to be photographed, encouraged by the most melodious melody of bird-songs and sights of spring flowers dipped in liquid colors of a fantasy land, in an otherwise silent world.
Barna (Crataeva adansonii)
Also called the Sacred Barna, Bengal quince, Garlic Pear, Three-leaf caper etc, its name originated from its Sanskrit name Varuna which means ‘Lord of Oceans’ and is one of the names for Lord Shiva. The Vedic God Varuna is associated with the Celestial Order and is venerated as a rainmaker. Per the Atharva Veda, its wood was used to make amulets. The tree is said to have medicinal as well as magical properties. (Nanditha Krishna & M. Amirthalingam, 2019)
A deciduous tree of a moderate height from 6 meters onward that grows to as high as 18 feet, it is a native to India, South China, Malay peninsula and tropical Africa, it is often found along river banks. In late April, it is blessed with beautiful flowers with lime-yellow petals that envelop its bunch of brilliant purple filaments holding the ovaries at their ends. Its use is widely documented in ancient Hindu medicines for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic and tonic properties. Its fresh leaves used to treat bruises and rheumatic joints, the bark used for gastric and urinary disorders. Its fruit is edible, full of vitamin C and bees are often seen buzzing around this tree. Its bark is used to treat biliousness, boils, rheumatic swellings as well as for chronic ulcer and nasal disorders.
Doodhi (Wrightia tinctorial)
Also called the Milky Way or the Sweet Indrajao plant, it is a native to dry deciduous forests of Northwest and central India. In Hindi, it is called Kapar or Dudhi, in Tamil it is called as Paalai and in Marathi it is called the Kala Kuda. It is adorned with beautiful vanilla-scented white flowers with lacy threads surrounding a central cone. From a distance, its white flowers look like snowflakes on a tree. Its distinctive hanging fruit looks like a misshapen ear ring. Its wood is a preferred choice for making toys and small items like small boxes and matchboxes. A few drops of its sap in milk prevent curdling, hence its name Doodhi. Leaves of this tree yield a blue dye, hence its name of pala-indigo. In folk-medicine, the leaves are munched to relive tooth pain, hence giving it the name of toothache plant. It is also used in hair oils for its anti-dandruff properties.
Toot (Morus alba)
Also called Chinese or Silk-work mulberry, it originally belonged to the hilly regions of Central and East China and Japan, where silkworms were traditionally reared on its leaves since antiquity. It is also known as White Mulberry. No two leaves are similar and are pointed, lobed and pointed. Its fruit is packed bunch of small edible berries, developing a richer flavor when dry, which then is used as a raisin substitute. The tree needs a lot of moisture and is deciduous. It has a vertically fissured trunk. Its young leaves are used a tea substitute and its leaves and shoots are used as a famine food as well. Its stem-bark is used in paper making in China and Europe, its twigs are used as a binding material in making baskets and its fruit yield to an essential oil.
Chamrod (Ethretia laevis)
Also called the desi papdi, it is superbly drought-hardy and is native to north India. Its edible bright orange-berries give the tree a jeweled look. Its bark is chewed and the make the mouth red, earning its local name ‘datranga’ by locals. It has a yellowish wobbly trunk and is often a bush overgrown to a mid-sized tree.
Gunja (Lannea coromandelica)
Also known by common name of jhingangummi, it is a large 5-10 meter high deciduous tree with some specimens as tall as 20 meters in more humid conditions. It has a smooth ash-colored bark, thereby giving it the name of Indian Ash Tree. It is native to the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Southern China. Male and female trees are often found nearby. Leaves appear at the end of branches. Purplish flowers appear when the tree is leafless. Greenish oval shaped fruits appear in clusters. Its bark is used to treat skin disorders, stomach ache and tooth ache, its bark is used to dye fish-nets. Its fruits are used to treat bone fracture. The tree is used for edible uses as well as a hedge tree.
Kath Gular (Ficus hispida)
Known also as the Hairy Fig tree, devil fig tree, opposite-leaved fig tree and rough-leaved fig tree, it is called gobla/kagsha/kala umbar/katgularia/phalgu in Hindi, dhed umbad in Marathi/Gujarati and kakodumbarika in Sanskrit. Its leaves are oppositely arranged on 1-4 cm long stalks, are thickly papery covered with coarse hairs, with toothed and pointed shape. Figs are covered in short hairs. The berries are emetic that is, they induce vomiting, and hence may be fatal if consumed in quantity.
Desert Cassia (Senna polyphylla)
It is a shrub or a small tree native to the Caribbean from Puerto Rico to The Virgin Islands. Due to its small weeping form, it is widely used as an ornamental tree to line boulevards in tropical cities. It is drought-resistant and grows to 2-3 meters high. Its five-petaled golden yellow flowers are two to three inches long cascading off its branches and blossom on and off the year in spring and fall. It is popular as a bonsai tree and also with butterfly enthusiasts.
Kankera (Maytelus senegalesis)
Known for its red spike-thorns, it is a small deciduous crooked bush or tree with an oval canopy and branches of solitary long spines. It is native to a very wide area covering Somalia to Senegal, South Africa, Madagascar, India and Afghanistan Tiny white scented flowers appear in bunches and its berry is dark red in color. It is termed as a magical plant in Africa and have been widely used traditionally in folk medicine for the treatment of a number of diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, tumors, virility, eye infections, nausea, yellow fever, toothache, malaria, snakebites, severe headache, and also as an aphrodisiac.
Pinj (Firminia colorata)
Commonly known as Scarlet Sterculia, with its name derived from Latin word for dung, stercus, because of its foul-smelling flowers and leaves. But its orange-red downward-hanging flowers give it a name of bonfire tree. The large 30-mm long tubular flowers are covered with fine downy hairs giving it a soft velvety feel. It is found in the forests of the Western Ghats and the Deccan and also in Southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam. In India, it is known as Kaushi in Marathi, Samarri pissi in Bengali, Malam herutti in Tamil.
Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
Native to China, it is known by its delicate little apricotish orange fruit – and is also known as Japanese Plum or Japanese medlar, Nespolo in Italy and Nispero in Spain where it is grown mainly as a fruit tree in the Mediterranean. Its fruit tastes slightly acidic and flavors similar to a combination of apricot, lemon, plum and cherry. The leaves are elliptically oblong: younger leaves are downy and used in floral arrangements while the mature leaves become leathery. It bears clusters of small delicate flowers with a sweet fragrance. It is an unusual fruit tree in the sense that its flowers in early winter and its fruits ripe in early spring.
Gamhar (Gmelina arborea)
It is also known by other English names such as Cashmere tree, Candahar tree and White teak. It is a fast-growing moderate to large sized deciduous tree with a wide spreading canopy. It is used as an avenue tree and its range covers East Asia, China, India, Myanmar and Far East. Its ovoid fruit is 18-25 mm long, has an aromatic and succulent flesh and has a bitter-sweet taste. Because of being a light-demanding species, it is a pioneer plant used in agro-forestry. Its wood is used in light construction, to make canoes and musical instruments and to carve images.
Bilsena (Naringi crenulate)
A spinous small tree with straight spines of 0.5 to 1 inch long, with two-three pairs of leaflets dotted with white oil glands and the terminal leaflet largest with a toothed margin. The leaves look like pieces of jewelery and used as a ornamental plant because of its beautiful, feathery green foliage. It has a wide range from West Pakistan to Myanmar, SW China to Southern Cambodia. It is said to be sub-deciduous at the time of flowering. It produces a hard, close-grained, light-yellow wood and its leaves, fruits and roots are used in traditional medicine.
Shaving Brush Tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum)
A very beautiful tree when in blooms, it is native to Southern Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where the flowers are used to decorate homes and churches. It grows to 20-40 feet in height, and sometimes to even 60 feet, but also adapted by bonsai enthusiasts as potted plants of 3 feet high. Flowers bloom in spring, silky and are either red or white. It is a deciduous tree and blooms when it has no leaves. Its buds open up at night with an audible pop. Apart from its ornamental uses, a highly intoxicating drink is also made from the tree in Central America.
Badminton Ball Tree (Parkia biglandulosa)
Also called the African Locust Tree and Gong-Stick tree and locally as Chendul ka jhar, the tall tree is a native to West Africa that is sometimes confused with Jacaranda, but for its tennis ball shaped fluffy flower heads that appear in winter. White flowers prominently stand out on the flower head at the tip of long thick stalks. Leaves have numerous leaflets. It belongs to the Mimosaceae (Touch-me-not) family.
Indian Tulip (Thespesia populnea)
Its other names are Portia, Pacific Rosewood, Scarlet Bell, Fountain Tree and Seaside Mahoe. It is a large tree of height of 40 feet or more with heart shaped leaves and cup shaped white flowers. Its bark is used in traditional medicine as diuretic, stimulant and also as an aphrodisiac. It also yield a strong fiber used to make boats, fishing nets and cordage. The wood is highly valued for use in quality works such as light construction, flooring molds, musical instruments and utensils. Young leaves and unripe fruits and flowers are eaten as raw, fried or cooked or added to soup. It is also used as a coastal windbreak.
Kanju (Holoptelea integrifolia)
Known by other exotic names such as Indian Elm and Chilbil, it is large deciduous tree growing up to 22 meters. Its range spread from India to Vietnam through Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Its bark and leaves are used to treat diabetes, leprosy, intestines disorders, rheumatic pains, boils, etc. It is used for making carts, carving statues, making match boxes etc.
Mysore Fig (Ficus mysorensis)
Native to Mysore, it belongs to the family of Moraceae or Mulberry and is a strangler fig with a large canopy. Its figs measure about 1.5 to 2 inches, edible and good to make jelly with. The fig starts out green, then change to yellow, orange, red, purple and finally black. The fruits appear in clusters of three or five at the end of its limbs. Its leaves are wide and leathery and measure about 6 inches wide and 10 inches long. Interesting feature of the tree is most of its roots grow above ground, but due to its heavy and dense characters, it can weather strong storms.
Satin Leaf Tree (Chrysophyllum oliviforme)
It is commonly known as Damson Plum, wild star-apple, saffron-tree etc and is a native to Florida, the Bahamas and Belize. Often used as a street landscape tree due to its aesthetic look specially when wind rustles through its leaves. It is a medium tree with a narrow crown in shade but spreads more in the sun. It has light reddish-brown bark and characterized by its stiff leaves of 2-6 inches long that are dark green above and rusty bronze-satin below. The tree is bit tricky to cultivate and may take a couple of attempts and may become permanently damaged by lack of watering. The fruit looks like olives in size, edible and its color changes from green to dark-purple when ripe. Its wood is hardy and difficult to carve, so mostly used in situations where a strong beam is used like fences.
Siala (Markhamia lutea)
Also called as the Nile Tulip tree, it is native to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Its biological name Markhamia is named after Clements Markham (1830-1916), who was an English geographer and secretary of the Royal Geographical Society. The beautiful tree with a narrow canopy, with its lush foliage with very large leaves, yellow trumpet flowers with red lines near its throat and decorative fruits, is used as an ornamental tree. The tree has slender, crooked branches and its fruits are typically one feet long bean-like capsules hanging down from the tree. In Africa, its leaves are eaten by elephants. It is also used for tobacco curing, i.e to reduce chlorophyll content and to change its color.
Siris (Albizia lebbeck)
It is also known as Indian walnut, shack shack, rattlepod and Woman’s Tongue, the names derived from its pods with seeds inside. The generic name Albizia is named after the Italian naturalist Albizzi. Lebbeck is the rattling noise of its seeds in the pod.
The tree is venerated in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The north Indian town of Sirsa in Haryana is believed to be named after abundance of Siris trees since antiquity. As per the Sthalapurana, Goddess Durga worshiped Shiva under this tree to be able to defeat Mahisasura. Hence the tree is associated with victory. Soldiers in olden times used to wear garlands of this tree as a blessing of Goddess Durga. Its flowers are prohibited to be offered to Durga’s son Lord Ganesh because the tree is venerated to mother cannot be offered to the son. As per another legend, when demons attached the Gods, Lord Indra selected a Siris tree as a hiding place for the divinity. It is the Bodhi Tree under which a follower of Shakyamuni named as Krakuchchanda got enlightenment. The Jaina Tirthankara called as Suparsvanatha got enlightenment under a Siris tree. Per a legend, a giant Siris tree in the submerged city of Poompuhur in the ancient civilization of Kumari Kandam (in present day Tamil Nadu) was infested with fairies and demons. (Nanditha Krishna & M. Amirthalingam, 2019)
Parakeets usually nibbling these pods and scatter the seeds. it is a beautiful deciduous shading tree up to 15 meters in height with grey flaky bark. Its sawdust causes sneezing attacks. It has many uses in traditional Indian medicine to such as an antiseptic, anti-allergic, asthma, inflammation, and even to treat abdominal tumors and ophthalmic disorders among others. Its wood is used for construction and furniture. Its bark is used as a fish poison. Its leaf is also used to treat night-blindness. Its leaves and flowers are used as antidotes to snake bites and scorpion stings.
It has nitrogen rich leaves that are used as green manure. It makes an excellent charcoal, it is a highly valued honey tree as it produces both nectar and pollen and its bark is used in India to dye fishing nets. It is found in a wide range of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.
Ashoka (Saraca indica)
Its name saraca may be from a tree genus named Sarac, and indica refers to its Indian origin. There is a confusion of Ashoka with Sita Ashoka. During the second half of the twentieth century, says Prof Sarma, Polyalthia longifolia began to be planted widely as an avenue tree and people created the neologism of Sita Ashok.
The most sacred and legendary trees of India, its name (A-shoka) means ‘without sorrow’. It is said that one who lives under an Ashoka tree will never be sad. It is also called kalpa-vriksha, or the wish fulfilling tree.
The tree is venerated in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology.
In Ramayana, Sita spent her captivity in the Ashoka Vatika and Hanuman is said to have met her under an Ashoka tree. A grove of Ashoka trees in Sri Lanka is identified as Sita’s hiding place till date. The tree is associated with chastity, perhaps because Sita could sustain herself even being a prisoner in Ravana’s garden of Ashoka trees. Three types of blooming Ashoka trees in Lanka are described in the Ramayana – the ones with scarlet red flowers being the most common (looking like burning coals), few with blue flowers (like the steady blue oil lamps offered to the god), and golden yellow. Lord Rama had also a garden of Ashoka trees, which was very dear to Sita.
In Mahabharata, Damayanti is described to search for Nala in a forest of flowering Askoka trees and she addresses the tree as, “Oh, this graceful tree in the heart of the forest, decked in flowers, looks beautiful like a charming king of hills. Oh, beauteous Ashoka, speedily free me from grief. Have you seen king Nala, the slayer of foes and the beloved husband of Damayanti?”
Queen Mayadevi is also said to have given birth to Shakyamuni Buddha in the gardens of Lumbini under an Ashoka tree. Some early sculptures depict Mayadevi holding to a branch of Ashoka tree during delivery. In Jainism, Lord Mahavira is said to have attained enlightenment under an Ashoka tree in Vaishali.
Kalidasa describes a dance performance in Malavikagnimita where the dancer Malavika kicks an Ashoka tree under which she was to dance, saying now that she has touched the tree with her feet, the tree will soon be blessed with flowers. And if did not flower even then, then the tree would be too mean to hurt her maiden pride.
Per the Matsya Purana, once Parvati planted an Ashoka tree and the gods on asking its benefit, she replied, “a pond is equal in merit to ten wells, a son to ten ponds and an Ashoka tree is equal in merit to ten sons.” Another legend says once Parvati asked Lord Shiva on the merits of Ashoka and on being told it could grant wishes, she asked for a baby girl. Immediately a daughter appeared whom Parvati named as Ashoka-Sundari.
The festival of Ashoka Shasthi is celebrated in eastern part of the country on the eighth day in the month of Chaitra, where it is believed that the woman who eats eight buds of Ashoka flower would be relieved of her sorrows. (Nanditha Krishna & M. Amirthalingam, 2019)
Since the tree is associated with various Hindu Gods in texts such as Bhavisya Purana, Ramayana, Raghuvamsa, Kumar Sambhava, we often find stylized representations of the tree in Hindu temples. It is also said that Kamadeva, the God of Love and Desire had in his bow flowers of five trees: Ashoka, Mango, Nava Mallika (Ixora perviflora), Pink Lotus (Nilumbo mucifera) and Blue Lotus (Nymphaea stellate), and hence is considered as a fertility flower.
The tree is slowly disappearing. It is native to India, Malaysia and Myanmar. It is a small evergreen tree with a smooth grey-brown bark, prized for its startlingly beautiful fragrant flowers. Its bright orange-yellow flowers bloom in heavy lush bunches against deep green leaves. Its leaves are dropping and pointed. It has many medicinal properties such as for women’s fertility and to treat gynecological disorders and womb disorders. It is also used to treat diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Wild Almond (Sterculia foetida)
Other names of this tree are Jungli Badam, Java Olive and its botanical name Sterculia comes from the Roman God of Manure, Sterquilinus, because of its bad smell. Due to its extraordinary height of about 36 meters, it is considered one of the giant trees of India. It is native to East Africa and North Australia. Oil of wild almond is comparable to sunflower, soya and rapeseed oils. The gum from its trunk and branches is used for book binding.
Hope you liked this photo-essay. Would look forward to read your comments and feedback.
Sacred Plants of India, by Nanditha Krishna and M. Amirthalingam, 2019.
Cities and Canopies, by Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli, 2019, Gurgaon
Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide, by Pradip Krishen, 2006, New Delhi
The nativity Tree of Prince Siddhartha, by Basanta Bidari
Life Expectancy Erosion due to pollution: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/life-expectancy-in-india-down-by-2-6-yrs-due-to-air-pollution-study/articleshow/69744180.cms
Kamakura Trail: http://freshcoffeestains.com/daibutsu-trail/
Manger Bani Forest: https://mangarbani.wordpress.com/
Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest: https://www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com/bamboo-forest-kyoto/