Flame of the Forest

The name itself suggests a lot about the tree. At the beginning of the summer, the leafless tree flowers abundantly and the scene appears very conspicuous in the forest. When the tree is in its fullest beauty, it can change the view of entire forest. Palash or Parrot tree (Butea Monosperma/पळस) is the state flower of Madhya Pradesh as well as Jharkhand.

It is a very beautiful tree with bright crimson orange coloured flowers and is noticeable even from long distance. It is said that the nature also plays Holi, the Indian festival of colours, as the tree flowers somewhat in same period. It is a bliss to have this tree, not only for human eyes owing to its beauty but for birds & squirrels also. Even when the tree is not in bloom, it is frequently visited by number of birds.

Palash is a sacred tree, referred to as treasurer of Gods and symbolise the moon. The flowers are offered as in place of blood in sacrifice rituals to Goddess Kali. The tree is said to have sprung from the feather of a falcon impregnated with the Somarasa, the beverage of the Gods and thus immortalised. When a Brahmin boy becomes a Sadhu, his head is shaved and he is given a Palash leaf to eat..the trifoliate formation representing Lord Vishnu in the middle, Lord Brahma on the left and Lord Shiva on the right.  It is even used in Hindu ceremonies for the blessing of calves to ensure their becoming good milkers.

This decorative trees thrives well in black, cotton soil, in salt lands and even in water logged places. It coppices well & is resistant to browsing. The tree is very drought resistant and frost hardy. It is easily propagated by seeds and grows rapidly in full sunlight.

The various parts of Palash have numerous uses. It is used for resin, fodder, medicine and dye. In India, being fairly rich in nutrients, its young leaves are good fodder, eaten mainly by buffaloes. The fibre obtained from the tree is made into ropes & cordage. The gum from the tree, called Kamarkas in Hindi, is used in certain food dishes. The gum is also considered valuable by druggists because of its astringent qualities and by leather workers because of its tannin. The flowers are used to prepare traditional Holi colour. A bright yellow to deep orange-red dye is also prepared, used especially for dyeing silk & cotton. This dye is used by Hindus to mark the forehead. Medicinally also, its flowers are useful in the treatment of liver disorders. Its seeds has anthelmintic, bactericidal & fungicidal properties. Its leaves are believed to have astringent, depurative, diuretic and aphrodisiac properties. It promotes diuresis & menstrual flow.

There is an interesting fact about the leaves of Palash. The tree provides leaves that are used with many pieced together to make a leaf-plate for serving a meal over. And in tribal communities, a would be son-in-law is tested on his dexterity in making this plate and bowl (for serving more liquid parts of the meal such as daal). If one could make it gracefully, then he is declared to be acceptable by the would be father-in-law. :-) 

In India, Palash is an important host for the lac insect, which produces shellac. Of all the lac trees, it yields the most lac stick per hectare. Usually grown for the decorative flowers, it also has a yellow-flowered rare variety. The tree is very useful in the recovery of salt lands. Farmers frequently use Palash to stabilize field bunds & for erosion control. According to experts, this tree can possibly make the livable conditions for other trees on a salty land, where otherwise they can't thrive.

Fame of the Forest..is what I love to call the tree!

Fragrance...On The Ground

There are few species of trees that bloom in the night & early in the morning, their fragrant flowers fall and carpet the ground around them with a heavenly aroma.. Sounds interesting na?!

Coral Jasmine (Nyctanthes Arbortristis/पारिजातक, प्राजक्ता) is one of the kind small tree which is a favourite tree in city gardens. This fragrant tree has many virtues to its name. The flower is the state flower of West Bengal.

The great, highly fragrant flowers bloom during night spreading their essence all to the surroundings. The courtyards filled with these flowers in the very morning is a bliss to eyes & nose as their aroma arises your spirit. These are apparently only flowers that are offered to God after being picked from the ground instead of plucking from the tree! That signify the importance of the tree.

The Puranas mentions that the Kalpa-Vriksha (the tree which grants all the wishes) which appeared as the result of the Samudra Manthan (Churning of the Milky Ocean) was actually the Coral Jasmine or Night-flowering Jasmine. It is believed that Lord Vishnu's heavenly throne is placed under a flowering Parijata tree & Hanuman lives under its shade. According to mythology, this heavenly tree is brought to Earth by Lord Krishna as both of his wives, Satyabhama & Rukmini wanted this tree from heaven to be planted in their respective gardens. A quarrel over it ensued between both of them. So to keep both of them happy, Krishna planted the tree in Satyabhama's courtyard in such a way that when the tree flowered, the flowers fell in Rukmini's courtyard. 

The tree is reported to have high medicinal values in Ayurveda and is useful as anti-pyretic, anti-spasmodic & anti-inflammatory agent. An insecticidal effect of an extract from shade-dried leaves has also been reported.

Coral Jasmine is easily propagated by seeds or cuttings. It coppices readily & is not browsed by goats or cattle. The essential oil in the flowers of Coral Jasmine, which is similar to the oil in jasmine, is used as perfume. The corolla of the tree has been used as a source of yellow dye in traditional fabric dyeing.

Another tree that flowers at night, sheds flowers early in the morning and similarly carpet the ground with its lovely flowers is the Indian Cork tree (Millingtonia Hortensis/बूच). Its bark yields an inferior cork, hence the name. It is a traditional medicinal plant widely used in India.

Its dried flower is a good lung tonic & broncho-dilator. It is also used in the cough diseases. Extract of the leaves of has good antimicrobial activity. A study revealed that the tree has a potent mosquito larvicidal property and could be selected for further studies particularly those pertaining to its effect on growth & development of mosquitoes.

Also known as Tree Jasmine, it is easily propagated from root suckers & cuttings. The tree is a favorite garden tree and is a very fast grower. Leaves are very ornamental, even when not in bloom this plant is an eye stopper. The flowers of this drought resistant tree have very rich & pleasant scent.

The Divine Tree

Indian Tulip Tree (Thespesia Populnea/भेंड, पारस-पिंपळ) is a marvellous tree which is considered sacred in many countries. It is planted near temples & churches. Its name is derived from a Greek word thespesios which means 'divine'.

The beautiful tree has glossy green, heart-shaped leaves & yellow hibiscus-type flowers which bloom year round. It is interesting to know that these yellow flowers turn dark red, purple or pink as the day progresses. Thus the flower lasts for couple of days. In Tamil, the tree is known as Poovarasu which means 'King of Flowers'..apt name for such a lovely tree! The tree establishes well & grows rapidly. Its branches are closely set & form a dense crown, hence it is also known as Umbrella  tree.

Instead of being only a very good ornamental tree, it has a wide range of uses too! And these vary from use in dune stabilization or for medicine to the use as organic mulch. It is a tough tree which can survive the poor drainage & hot, dry conditions common to urban areas.

Indian Tulip Tree is an excellent species for coastal protection as it tolerates droughty sandy soils, brackish water, occasional water-logging, wind & salt spray. It also provides abundant leaf litter for use as mulch in sandy, coastal sites. The tree firmly anchors sandy soils & protects them from erosion. Hence being a soil improver & stabilizer and a excellent windbreak, it is also used as living fences. 

Its bark produces a strong fibre which is used for ropes, cordage, fishing lines, coffee bags etc. The flowers & its capsule are said to give a yellow dye & the bark produces tannin.

Indian Tulip has been used in many ways in traditional medicines in India. According to Ayurveda, Indian Tulip is astringent, acrid, cooling and is shown to be useful in skin related troubles, leprosy, diseases of blood & urinary system, diarrhoea, dysentry, cholera, diabetes, ascites etc.

Indian Tulip is a relatively easy tree to grow. It propagates easily from seed or from cuttings.

The Indian Tulip is occasionally confused with Sea Hibiscus (Hibiscus Tiliaceus/बेलिपता) due to similar heart-shaped leaves, yellow flowers. Both these trees are, interestingly & shockingly, more or less similar in their uses also. Of course, there are differences in medical properties. But for other aspects, both of the trees can be called as replica of one another.

Sea Hibiscus tree is reputed to be a good forage plant for bees & the time to first flowering is typically 2–3 years of age. Sea Hibiscus has a noted ability to improve soil in organic matter & fertility, most likely through leaf drop & decomposition, which occurs at a moderately fast rate.

The People's Tree!

Peepal is one of the best known trees of India. It is a large, fast growing deciduous tree which has got mythological, religious and medicinal importance in Indian culture since times immemorial!

The Sacred Fig (Ficus Religiosa/पिंपळ, अश्वत्थ) is regarded as the representation of various Hindu Gods as well as Goddesses. It has a heart shaped leaves & large crown with the wonderful wide spreading branches. It can grow in any type of soil. It’s a native tree which gives shelter to lots of birds, insects & reptiles too. May be due to its importance in ecosystem, its also known as Vanaspati (Lord of Forest).

The Peepal tree is held sacred both by the Hindus and Buddhist. Peepal has the great importance in India especially among the Buddhist who regard Peepal tree as the personification of Buddha. According to the Buddha 'He who worships the Peepal will receive the same reward as if he worshiped me in person'. Because Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment under this tree, it is often referred to as the Bodhi tree or the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’. Thus Peepal tree has its own symbolic meaning of Enlightenment and Peace. Hindus in India holds the great spiritual regard for the Peepal, they regard it as the tree beneath which Lord Vishnu was born. Peepal tree is considered highly sacred, as people are of the belief that our trinity.. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh & many other Gods used to reside underneath the tree. The tree is also believed to be associated with the Mother Goddess during the period of Indus Valley civilization. People revere the Peepal tree and also perform a pooja in its dedication.

It is considered to be the most auspicious tree in Hindu mythology which says,“Peepal tree is the abode of Gods and Goddesses” & hence the tree should never be harmed. The tree is also closely linked to Lord Krishna as in the Bhagavad Gita, He says,"Among trees, I am the Ashvattha." According to the Skanda Purana, if one does not have a son, the Peepal should be regarded as one. And as long as the tree lives, the family name will continue. People tie threads of white, red & yellow silk around it to pray for progeny & rewarding parenthood.

The tree also symbolises the continuity of life because the tree itself lives & grows for hundreds of years. Probably that's why this is the only tree which is honoured as the state tree of three Indian states.. Bihar, Haryana & Orissa. Peepal is one of the longest living trees. The Shri MahaBodhi tree, located in Bodh Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar, has a known planting date of 288 B.C. This is the oldest, verified age of any angiosperm or flowering plant!

This Tree of Life has also been recognized for the medicinal value in Ayurveda as well as Unani. Each and every part of the tree is used in treating one or the other ailments!

The leaves are a good fodder for elephants and cattle. The leaves are dried they are used for the decoration purpose. From the bark of the Peepal tree reddish dye is extracted. Its bark yields the tannin used in treating leather. The bark yields a tenacious milky juice which hardens into a substance resembling rubber. Its bark yields a fibre as well. The latex is used as a sealing wax to fill cavities.

It is a well known fact that plants utilise carbon dioxide for photo-synthesis & release oxygen during day time. But Peepal can also do a modified form of photosynthesis called as Crassulacean Acid Metabolism. Though they may not release large amount of oxygen by this process but they are capable of doing photosynthesis during night. Besides this research work conducted on several plants revealed that the Peepal releases large quantities of Isoprene a volatile organic compound necessary for preventing depletion of ozone layer concluding that these trees play an important role in preserving ozone layer.

Being such a wonderful & useful tree, it is obvious that our mythology do not allow to hurt the tree in anyway. To cut down a Peepal is considered a sin equivalent to killing a Brahmin, one of the five deadly sins (Pancha-pataka). According to the Skanda Purana, a person goes to hell for doing so!

Truly Peepal is one of the Nature’s valuable gifts. The highly beneficial tree is easily propagated through the seeds. It benefits not only humans but birds & insects too in multiple ways. Hope this heart-leaved sacred tree resides in your heart and you have the heart to plant one!