No rose without a thorn!

Here is the most ignored, underestimated & least valued tree, at least in urban area. Unfortunately, that's the area where it needs the most! It is never planted near house, societies or in gardens and even the grown trees are cut due to its thorny branches. But this thorny tree has much to offer..both, to humans as well as to birds & wildlife.

Babool tree (Acacia Nilotica/ बाभूळ, बाभळी) is the important indigenous species throughout India, particularly in arid & semi-arid areas. The tree is particularly important in India's drive to recover wastelands.

Babool has number of uses to its name. Almost every portion of Babool is used for various purposes. This sturdy tree is useful in agroforestry, apiculture, soil improvement &  its conservation. Generally, it is used for fodder, agricultural implements, tannin extraction, tooth brushes, ayurvedic medicines & shampoo.

The tree improve soil fertility by adding organic matter & releasing nutrients through litter fall. The main advantage of this tree is its fast biological nitrogen fixation, ability to establish on nitrogen-deficient & drought prone soils and suitability for agroforestry systems. Thus it can be used in rehabilitation of dry lands. The tree also finds place in the list of pollution-tolerant species.

The green portions of Babool & its pods form a valuable fodder in arid areas. Its leaves are very digestible & has high levels of protein. Hence favoured by cattle, goats & sheep. It can tolerate browsing & coppices fairly well. It makes an impenetrable fence & a good protective hedge because of its thorns. Recommendations based on research results suggests that it grown on 8 year rotation along field boundaries assures good profit for farmer. The bark has high levels of tannin which are used for tanning leathers. It also gives good quality charcoal. The tree makes a good host plant for growing Sandalwood (Santalum Album/चंदन) and for lac insect,  which produces lac, an important source of shellac. The gum is used in paints & medicines and as a substitute for gum-arabic. It may be used as a demulcent & astringent or for conditions such as gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, diarrhea, dysentery or diabetes. The green pods are an important source of natural antioxidants.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the admirer! And this absolutely true in case of Babool. Its aromatic flowers appear in globulous heads in a bright golden-yellow color and are popular bee forage. Pods are tomentose, deeply constricted between seeds giving a necklace appearance. Interestingly, due to its thorns, the tree is favoured by small birds like sparrows, sunbirds, prinias & munias. The thorns act as a protective barrier against larger birds making this tree a nesting site for these small birds. The tree is one of the only few natural habitats available for sparrows. So together with various high-pitched voices of small birds, butterflies & bees; isn't the tree look wonderful?!!

This almost-evergreen & sturdy tree is easily propagated by seed (seldom planted in gardens), self sown in many areas. Soaking seeds in water for 12-24 hours gives good results. Babool can tolerate & thrive on degraded saline or highly alkaline soils. The tree is salt tolerant & can grow near the sea, even along salt marshes. It withstands extremes of temperature from -1° to 50° C. It also tolerates extreme drought & needs very little water. Probably, that's the reason the tree is used to fight desertification. It is even resistant to temporary flooding & can grow in waterlogged soils for long periods.

Another deciduous species of Acacia namely Cutch tree (Acacia Catechu/खैर) is also an important tree in Indian agroforestry. It gives two commercially important products catechu & cutch. Catechu as a edible product katha and Cutch is used as a tanning agent for leather, a dye for canvas, fishing nets, mail bags etc. It has got medicinal properties that can be used to treat diarrhea, dysentery & wounds. The tree also serves as a host for lac cultivation & its leaves are used as fodder.

There are two more native species which are used in Indian agroforestry practices. White Bark Acacia (Acacia Leucophloea/हिंवर) has great potential as a reforestation species for degraded sites. It grows well on alluvial or infertile soils also. The tree fixes atmospheric nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria which enables it to survive on infertile sites. Gum Arabic Tree (Acacia Senegal/कुम्ठा) is highly valued for centuries for gum-arabic production. It plays a secondary role in agricultural systems, restoring soil fertility & providing fodder. This deciduous tree is important for desertification control through sand dune stabilization and wind breaks. It protects wastelands from being further degraded & even tolerate industrial pollution.

All of them are very useful, ain't they? Its very true to say, there in no rose without a thorn!


  1. Stumbled upon your blog. Very informative and useful.

  2. Thank you very much Prasad ji for stopping by :)

  3. Perfect, Just what I was looking for. Thank you!

  4. I am delighted to see this blog sir

  5. This is very informative and will help in regaining the space for Sparrows.