A Bird's Paradise

The Semal tree is one of the most beautiful trees of the Indian sub-continent. The fast growing tree which is also known as Red Silk-Cotton Tree (Bombax Ceiba/शाल्मली, काटेसांवर, सावरी) bears large red, orange or yellow flowers when bloom and the young tree flowers abundantly spreading its vibrant colors all around standing out in the landscape. It is widely planted in parks and on roadsides because of its beauty.

The impressive tree is very valuable also. Almost every part of the tree is of some use. The Calyx of the young flowers is cooked & eaten as a vegetable. The bark is soft-and is used in the manufacture of match sticks. It is even used by fishermen as floats for their nets. Fiber can be obtained from the tree which is water-resistant & is a valuable component in life jackets. It is also used in insulation and for stuffing. It's seeds yield a pale yellow edible oil, which can also be used for soap making and as a substitute for cotton seed oil. The inner wall of the fruit produces silky floss, which is used for filling pillows, quilts and sofas.

That is not the end of the wonders of the fire & drought resistant Semal tree. In Ayurveda also, almost each part of the tree is useful. Be it the root or flowers or its bark or fruits or its seeds or even its prickles! The gum is obtained from the tree known as Mocharas, has some repute in Ayurvedic medicine. The gum is cooling, astringent, stimulant, tonic & demulcent in nature. It is useful in dysentery, hemoptysis, pulmonary tuberculosis, influenza, burning sensation, menorrhagia, enteritis, for healing wounds and to stop bleeding. Flowers are astringent and good for skin troubles & haemorrhoids. Seeds are useful in treating gonorrhea & chronic cystitis. A paste made out of prickles is good for restoring skin color especially on the face. Young fruits are useful in calculus affections, chronic inflammations, ulceration of bladder & kidney.

Since Vedic times, the tree has been considered as God tree by various communities. God tree means that no one is allowed to hurt the tree in anyway. Even today the tree is worshiped, respected, guarded and conserved by number of tribes in Rajasthan, Manipur, Chhattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh being considered as a tree totem. The tree has so much importance amongst these tribes that some of them consider this tree as one of their own relatives and they used to praise its shade also!

The beautiful tree gives excellent shade except for Jan to March, when the leafless tree is in full bloom. At the time, the large red flowers create a spectacular look. The tree is propagated by seeds & large cuttings. Overnight soaking of seeds in cold water will increase the chances of germination.

No tree attracts birds to quite the extent of the Semal tree. There is a constant chatter of bird voices from the tree in bloom. Birds like Orioles, Crows, Bulbuls, Mynahs, Drongo, Tree Pie, Babblers, Great Tits, Sun-birds, Parakeets, Flower-Peckers and many other squabble & jostle for a sip of the delicious nectar. Bees & other insects which are attracted by flower's nectar, in turn attract many insects-eating birds too. And since the Semal trees is large & tall, it becomes the favorite roosting and resting sites for the large birds especially the vultures and eagles as well! These all with other small birds make up a grand symphony of nature. The man who doesn't feel excited in the presence of such beauty surely must be a heartless fellow.

The Real Gold

Being considered to be as valuable as gold for its medicinal values, there is a ritual of exchanging Sonpatta leaves during Dussehra in India. This story has a hidden meaning to it.. It teaches us to share whatever we have with each other. It teaches us to enjoy the Joy of Giving! The one who gives also gets something. We too have something to exchange, as much valuable as the leaves exchanged during Dussehra and that is..our heart.

The Sonpatta Tree (Piliostigma Racemosum/आपटा, श्वेत-कांचन) is a rare medicinal tree which can grow in poor & very harsh climatic conditions. The deciduous tree is propagated easily from seed.

Almost each & every part of this tree has some medicinal values. The stem bark of the tree is an astringent and is used in the treatment of headache, fever, skin diseases, blood diseases, dysentery & diarrhoea. A decoction of the bark is recommended as a useful wash for ulcers. The tree is demonstrated to have anti-oxidant & hepato-protective effects. An extract of the leaves has been proved to show analgesic, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, anthelmintic and anti-microbial activity too. The tree has anti-tumor qualities and is widely used in Ayurveda to treat first stage cancer.

The tree has small, creamy white or yellow coloured flowers in axillary or terminal racemes.  The flowers are laxative & seeds are anti-bacterial.

The leaves are used for making bidis (Bidi Leaf Tree). The tree yields a useful gum & fibres. The bark is used for tanning and dyeing.

Despite having so much importance during Dussehra, the rare tree is brutally treated on the Dussehra itself. Taking few leaves is different thing. But people and those who sell these leaves on the day, usually end up defoliating almost the entire tree and ruthlessly breaking its branches. I don't think hurting a live sacred tree will serve the purpose of Dussehra..the purpose of increasing cordiality in relations; to achieve victory over demons. Instead, why not plant or gift the tree itself to our loved ones? The live gold will be a perfect gift on this Dussehra! :-)

The Sonpatta tree is worshipped with the recitation of special prayer, asking for victory over one’s defects & enemies, success in one’s endeavors and reunion with friends..

Ashmantak Mahavruksha Mahadoshnivaran
Istana darshanm dehi kuru shtruvinashnam

Meaning: O great Apta (Ashmantak) tree, you are the one who overcomes great defects. Unite me with my friends and destroy my foes.

There are another two fast growing native species which are commonly mistaken for Sonpatta due to same bi-lobed leaves, known as Purple Orchid Tree (Phanera Purpurea/कांचन) and Orchid Tree (Phanera Variegata/ रक्त-कांचन). These both trees have almost all the qualities of Sonpatta tree.

The leaves of Purple Orchid tree make good fodder for sheep, goats & cattle. The flowers are of much importance in Apiculture. And also as a pot herb in curries & made into pickle (chutni). It is planted for its value as well as for its extreme beauty. It is one of the loveliest of Indian trees. The tree is staggeringly beautiful when in bloom..and it blooms for several months!

The Orchid tree got its name Variegata due to variegated nature of its flower. Its flowers can be found in shades of magenta, lavender, purplish blue or even white.

The King of Deserts

Some must have heard about this tree in our great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The tree that represents the Goddess of Power is worshiped by Pandavas who hid their weapons in it during Agyatavasa as well as Rama before advancing his army to kill Ravana. But the greatness of Khejri tree (Prosopis Cineraria/शमी) is not limited to this mention.

An evergreen thorny tree which can grow in very harsh climate & in poor soil, well adapted to the arid conditions and also stands well to the browsing by animals. Khejri withstands hot winds & dry seasons and exhibits considerable drought hardiness. The tree reproduces freely by root suckers and establishes well from seeds too. The seeds should be soaked for 24 hours before plantation.

Khejri is reported to be astringent, demulcent & pectoral too, a folk remedy for various ailments. The bark, considered anthelmintic, tonic & refrigerant, can be used to treat a variety of other ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, dysentery, skin disorders, leprosy, muscle tremors, piles and wandering of the mind too!

But the value of the tree goes much beyond its medicinal properties.

The root system of Khejri is long, deep & well developed, securing a firm footing for the plant and allowing it to obtain moisture from ground-water. It do not compete for moisture and nutrients with crops. A symbiotic relationship with some bacteria allow it to fix nitrogen in the soil, improving soil fertility. Furthermore it also adds organic matter through leaf litter decomposition, rejuvenating poor soils. It coppices readily & profusely. Owing to all these, Khejri is compatible with agrihorticultural crops. The tree boosts the growth and productivity of the companion plants.

Due to its importance in afforestation of arid & semi arid areas, rural communities encourage the growth of Khejri in their agricultural fields, pastures & village community lands. Because of its extensive root system, it stabilizes shifting sand dunes and is also useful as a wind-break. Because it is the only tree species in arid regions, it provides provides much needed shade & shelter to the farmers working in the fields as well as to the cattle & wildlife during the summer months.

Khejri pods are used as vegetable in the dried and green form in many parts of the Thar desert. In Rajasthan, during times of famine, people used eat the bark of the tree. It being an excellent fuel, gives high-quality charcoal. The tree yields a pale to amber coloured gum with properties similar of gum acacias. Bark and leaf galls used for tanning. It is one of the much valued & best browse plants for cattles, sheep, camels.

Being such a multi-purpose tree, no doubt it is highly worshiped by Bishnoi community. In Rajasthan, the tree is treated with the reverence that the Banyan & Peepal command elsewhere in India. Its a state tree of Rajasthan. In 1731, Amrita Devi sacrificed her life to protect Khejri trees with 363 other people who were also killed defending the trees.

In some parts of south India, the leaves of the Khejri are soaked in water until the day before Diwali when people bathe with this water. People consider it to be symbol of good luck. The tree is worshipped with the recitation of the special prayer, asking for victory over one’s defects..

Shami Shamayate papam shami lokhitkantaka
Dharinyarjunbananam Ramasya priyavadini
Karishmanyatraya yathakal such mya
Tatra nirvighanktri twam bhav Sree Rampujite

Meaning: The Shami tree cleanses sins. Its thorns are reddish in colour. It is Lord Rama's favourite tree and in such a tree Pandavas hid their arms. O Shami, Lord Rama has worshipped you. I now embark upon my journey to victory. May you make it pleasant and free from obstacles!

Arishta..Reliever of sickness!

Thank you God you created Neem tree!!!

As each part of Neem (Azadirachta Indica/कडुनिंब) is used in the medicines, it has been used in Ayurveda for more than 4000 years. It is referred as Sarva Roga Nivarini in our Vedas which means 'the one that cures all ailments & illnesses'. Owing to its versatile characteristics, it is rightly called the Village Pharmacy. Due to which, the tree is gaining respect throughout the world.

The seeds & leaves contain compounds which are demonstrated to have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-pyretic, hypotensive, anti-ulcerating, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-malarial activity also! Variety of skin diseases, septic sores, infected burns, small-pox, chicken-pox & warts have traditionally been treated with paste of neem leaves.

It is far more than a tough tree that grows vigorously in difficult site. Among its numerous benefits, one that is most unexpected & immediately practical is to control farm & household pest. Number of flies. bugs & crop-pests as snails, nematodes, larvae of number of mosquito species (Anopheles & Aedes also) are sensitive to Neem. But the interesting fact is, it seems remarkably benign to earthworms, butterflies, bees & insects that contribute in pollination, ladybugs that consume aphids & wasps that acts as a parasite on various crop-pests.

Neem truly is a farmer's friend. Very useful as windbreak and a welcome source of shade. The tree can grow in some marginal lands also, thus it may not displace the food crops. It is beneficial for soil too! Its extensive deep roots seem to have remarkable effect at extracting nutrients from poor soil & these enter the top soil as leaves & twigs fall & decay. the leaves which are alkaline in nature are believed to neutralise the acidity in the soil. Thus it can help some worn-out lands return to productive use that are currently unsuited to crops. Its seed-cake (remnant after extraction of a oil, a potential biodiesel) is good fertilizer containing nitrogen, potash, phosphorous, calcium & magnesium. Earlier most of poor farmers used to mix handful of neem leaves in their stored grains for controlling pests. But now they do not want to be stigmatized as backward for following an ancestral & traditional practice. The key to quickly overcoming this misguided attitude is to show that using neem in modern than modern techniques for which these farmers are paying big money.

It is a beautiful tree which flowers in the beginning of summer in creamy white cluster. It can be planted easily using seeds, seedlings, samplings. The seeds should be sown soon after the fruit has ripened. Its growth is comparatively slow. But coppices (re-sprout & grow back vigorously after branches being cut) freely and following regrowth can be exceptionally fast as its being served by the root system large enough to feed a full grown tree.

The fertilizers made from Neem leaves & seeds are much in demand. Neem is also used in the manufacture of soap. A tonic wine is prepared from the bark. Neem reduce erosion & deforestation. The tree is known to fight Desertification. It has been used successfully in rehabilitating the waste land areas. Neem bark contains tannins which are used in tanning and dyeing industries.

Neem, state tree of Andhra Pradesh, can be a best avenue tree (one which is planted alongside roads & highways). Neem gives out more oxygen than many other trees. The temperature under this tree has been found to be ~10°C less than the surrounding temperature. It is said that planting Neem tree near the house is a ensured passage to heaven. On the day of Gudi-Padwa, its leaves are tied on the main entrance to remain away from the evil spirits.

A Wonder tree indeed!