The Flamingo Bill

The Agati is an awesome tree with beautiful, showy and eye-catching flowers. It is also known as Flamingo Bill (Sesbania Grandiflora/हातगा, अगस्ति) due to resemblance of its flowers to the bill of Flamingo birds. It is a very fast growing tree that produces forage, food, fertiliser, green manure and holds promise for reforesting eroded wastelands throughout tropics.

The Agati tree combines very well with agri-culture. It is often maintained in gardens and around crop fields for its contribution of nitrogen. It has excellent root nodulation which fixes nitrogen. It is a well-suited perennial for dense planting, growing for short periods and ploughing under to improve soil before planting food crops. The light shade cast by its canopy does not block much light, allowing the growth of companion plants. Falling leaflets, flowers & pods make excellent green manure or mulch and recycle nutrients to the ground, thus improving soil fertility. Furthermore, it is well-suited for ornamental purposes due to its giant showy flowers. Hence Agati is one of the perfect trees suitable for plantation in urban societies & gardens. It has also been used as a living fence and to shade nurseries & some crops such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and as windbreaks for citrus, banana & coffee.

Be it its leaves, seed pods or flowers, all are edible and nutritious too! Flowers are the most widely used part and are eaten as a vegetable in India. It can be used as a common vegetable, even raw or steamed & cooked in soups, bhajiyas and stews after the stamen & calyx have been removed. Hence these flowers are sold in the market. Young leaves can also be eaten, usually chopped fine & steamed, cooked or fried. Tender pods are eaten as string beans.

Leaves of Agati serves the purpose of fodder not only for livestock but for butterflies also. It is an excellent supplement to dairy cows fed predominantly grass hay. The tree produces leaves for fodder within 4 months of establishment. Even tender pods are valued for nutritious fodder. The leaves contain 36% crude protein (dry weight) & vitamin A. The most effective method of feeding the fodder to ruminants is to supplement with it up to 15-30% of the total diet. Because of its high protein content, Agati should not be solely fed to animals but should be combined with a roughage that is low in protein and high in energy, such as rice or maize straw.

The Agati tree also provides a clear gum which is used in foods, adhesives and tannins. Its medicinal properties include antibiotic, anthelmintic, antitumour and contraceptive actions. The bark is considered as a tonic & antipyretic, a remedy for gastric troubles, colic with diarrhoea & dysentery. In India, all the parts of Agati are reputed to cure night blindness. The root is a well-known medicine for malaria. The principal medicinal effects are due to the tree’s astringency, hence it is used against inflammation, venom, bacterial infections and tumors.

Agati is outstanding in its ability to tolerate water-logging and is ideally suited to seasonally waterlogged or flooded environments. When flooded, they initiate floating adventitious roots and protect their stems, roots and nodules with spongy, aerenchyma tissue. Another outstanding feature is its tolerance of both saline & alkaline soil conditions. Agati can be propagated easily by cuttings & seeds.

There is another species from the same genus which has got some controversy to its origin..Common Sesban (Sesbania Sesban/शेवरी, जयंती). Though some experts consider this tree as a exotic species, it has a long history of use in India, primarily as a green manure and a source of 'cut and carry' forage.

Common Sesban has many similar properties to that of Agati tree..like food, fodder, fertilisers, nitrogen fixation, ornamental, windbreak, shade and even some medicinal properties. It has beautiful yellow coloured flowers and this coppiceable tree can be propagated easily by seeds.

In India, Sesbanias have had a long history of agricultural use, primarily as green manures and as sources of forage. Being legumes and ability to improve soil condition, these trees has proved to be popular as a fallow species and as a important agroforestry species.