An Apple Or Two

Bael or Holy Fruit or more aptly, Golden Apple (Aegle Marmelos/बेल) is the only member of its monotypic genus Aegle. It is one of the most useful and well known of the Indian tree. Almost every part of the tree is put to some use and it has been used very widely for thousands of years in India. It bears sacred aromatic leaves, fragrant flowers and edible fruits.

The Bael is considered as a sacred tree by the Hindus. They offer its leaves to Lord Shiva during worship. Almost every Hindu temple in India would have one or more Bael trees in their courtyards.

In the Hindu religion, the Tri-foliate leaves typical of the Bael is seen as the 3-pronged Trident (Trishula) that Lord Shiva holds in his right hand. The Trident symbolizes his three fundamental Powers (shakti) of Will (ichchha), Action (kriya) and Knowledge (gyana). The Trident also symbolizes the past, the present and the future. It is believed that the leaves absorb foul gases from the atmosphere and keep it clean and salubrious.

Though more prized for its medicinal virtues than its edible quality, this interesting tree is, nevertheless, of sufficient importance as an edible fruit too! Bael fruits contain nutritious pulp and is eaten fresh. It is rich in carbohydrates, fibres, proteins, calcium, iron, phosphorus, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. A popular drink called sherbet in India, is made by beating the seeded pulp together with milk & sugar. The drinks are consumed perhaps less as food or refreshment than for their medicinal effects. Mature but still unripe fruits are made into jam, marmalade, jelly, pickle or syrup, likewise for both food and therapeutic use.

The tree is known to have medicinal properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used to cure diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, colitis, eye & ear infections and as a brain & heart tonic.

Being a deciduous tree, Bael provide green manure, or leaves can be used as fodder. An essential oil is extracted from the leaves which is used in cosmetics. Other commercial products from the tree include gum, tannin & dyes. A mucous is obtained chiefly from the fruit which is used as cement when mixed with lime; it is also mixed with water paints as a drier and to give a glossy finish; it is also used as a soap substitute. This tree is also a larval foodplant for the Indian Swallowtail butterflies.

In India, Bael has the reputation of thriving where other fruit trees cannot survive. The tree has no exacting cultural requirements, doing well with a minimum of fertilizer and irrigation. The Bael seems to be relatively free from pests and diseases. The tree is commonly grown from seed.

Another tree which displays similar type of fruits is Curd Fruit or Wood Apple (Limonia Acidissima/कवठ, कैट) which is a large deciduous tree.

In fact this term 'Wood apple' is also used for the Bael fruit. But it is more appropriate for the Curd Fruit. Interestingly, the tree is also the only species within the monotypic genus Limonia, just like Bael tree.

Wood Apple also bears edible, nutritious fruits. The fruit is eaten fresh or is used to make jams, jelly, syrups etc. Other uses include gum, dyes, tannin. The gum is said to be useful in preparation of water colours, and to be preferred to Gum Arabic. Oil is said to be obtained from the leaves and the seeds. The hard dry shells of small fruits are made into snuff boxes. The tree flowers abundantly with tiny, beautiful flowers; which attracts many birds and insects.

Wood Apple has traditionally been used in many herbal remedies as a digestive stimulant, astringent, anti-dysenteric, anti-hemorrhoidal and as an anti-diarrheal. The fruit and the leaves are used in herbal preparations. The tree is propagated by seeds.

Both these trees, Bael and Wood Apple are perfect trees for roadside plantation.

Ashoka The Great

Asoka or Ashoka is a Sanskrit word which means 'without sorrow', or which that gives no-grief. The Sorrowless tree, Sita Ashoka, or simply, Ashoka (Saraca Asoca/सीता अशोक) is one of the most legendary and a sacred tree of India. The plant is prized for its beautiful foliage and flowers. Some of the local language describes it as tree of Love bosoms. The Hindu mythology describes it to be a sacred one and dedicated to Kamadeva, the God of Love. It is also said that Buddha was born under this tree, hence this tree is planted in all Buddhist monastery. 

It is a very handsome, small & erect, ever-green tree, with deep green leaves growing in dense clusters. Flowers are usually to be seen throughout the year, but it is in winter that the profusion of orange & scarlet clusters turns the tree into an object of startling beauty. Sita Ashoka, a herald of spring, produces large bunches of glorious flowers of outstanding beauty, bright orange-yellow in color, turning red before wilting. It is easy-to-grow, easy-to-prune tree that flowers abundantly and produces a compact shaped canopy - an ideal candidate as a houseplant or a lawn tree in urban areas. It attracts loads of bees, butterflies and birds. 

Hindus revere it because to them it is the symbol of love as Kamadeva included an Sita Ashoka blossom among the five flowers in his quiver. Sita, wife of Lord Rama, when abducted by the evil Ravana, she was kept in a garden among groves of Sita Ashoka trees, Ashok-Vatika. Both Buddhists and Hindus plant the tree round their temples and the blossoms are among those used for religious offerings. And possibly due to this, numerous legends and uses are attributed to this beautiful tree. The tree often marks the site of temples and rock carvings. On Ashok Shasthi day, women from Bengal eat the flower buds, while Hindu ladies believe that by drinking the water in which flowers have lain, they will protect their children from worry and grief. The tree is known to reduce the pain & sorrow of people. People feel happy when they see the extra-ordinary beauty of the tree. 

According to Ayurvedic medicine, it is the one herb that stands out as especially useful for treating excessive uterine bleeding. The earliest chronicled mention is in the Ayurvedic treatise, the Charaka Samhita (100 A.D.), in which Sita Ashoka is recommended in formulations for the management Pain with relation to Uterus as Anodynes. The Bhavprakasha Nighantu, commonly known as the 'Indian Materia Medica' (1500 A.D.), cites the plant as a Uterine tonic that is effective in regularizing the menstrual disorders. Sita Ashoka is an excellent herb for gynecological problems. It is useful in stimulating the uterus, the endometrium and the ovarian tissues, uterine bleeding associated with fibroids, leucorrhoea, menstrual disturbances without producing any side effects. Apart from this it is also useful for other ailments such as internal piles, diabetes, dyspepsia, indigestion, burning sensation, blood disorders, fractures, tumors, bites, inflammations, ulcerations and skin discoloration.

Sita Ashoka is an important tree in the cultural traditions of India. There is no doubt that why this useful tree is honoured as a state tree of Uttar Pradesh as well as state flower of Orrisa.

But the tree which is always misunderstood for the Ashoka tree is in fact the Mast tree or False Ashoka (Polyalthia Longifolia/अशोक). Its because of closely resembling leaves of both the species.

Mast tree is a lofty evergreen tree, native to India, commonly planted due to its effectiveness in alleviating noise pollution. The tree can be trimmed as required and has very beautiful flowers. Fruit are borne in clusters of 10-20, initially green but turning purple or black when ripe. These are loved by birds. The tree can be propagated by seeds or cuttings.

It is a drought-tolerant medicinal tree. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is known to pacify vitiated vata, pitta, inflammation, fever, skin disease, diabetes, hypertension and worm infestation. Besides, its a sacred tree in India and Sri Lanka, where the tree is held in high esteem, its leaves are used in religious ceremonies and for decorating arches and doorways. Its leaves also serves as larval food for butterflies like Swallowtails. The adjacent photograph is showing the caterpillar of Tailed Jay butterfly feeding on leaves of Mast tree.

Mast tree is one of the prime choices of landscape designers. It is well-suited for urban societies as visual dividers, wind blockers in open spaces or as a hedge tree.

The Pride of India

Here is one of the most spectacular flowering trees in the world. The Queen's Crape Myrtle or simply, Jarul (Lagerstroemia Speciosa/जारुळ, तामण) is one of the most outstanding summer bloomers. It is a fast growing, almost evergreen, moderate-sized species which has many uses to its name.

A profusion of large, dark pink to lavender blooms appear in dense, foot-long, terminal panicles, making Jarul tree a spectacular specimen to look at. Putting out brilliant displays of the glorious bright flowers, the tree attracts large numbers of bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, a well grown tree may flower twice a year. Due to which, it will stand out in every garden and is a beautiful landscape tree. The Jarul tree can start flowering as early as three years of age. 

Jarul is a drought tolerant species which is easily cared in the garden or landscape with really a low maintenance. It will grow in full sun on a wide range of well-drained soils but is not salt-tolerant. It coppices freely and is easily propagated by seeds, cuttings, root suckers.

Jarul has dense and wide spreading root system. Hence the tree is valued for erosion control. The hardy tree can even be utilised for reforestation of degraded hills.

Being one of the most beautiful trees, moreover, this tree is also medicinally valuable & famous in Ayurvedic medicine. Jarul can be used to treat number of ailments such as urinary tract infections, blood pressure & even type II diabetes mellitus. It is also believed to have anti-diabetic & weight reducing properties. Technically, the active principle is considered to be corosolic acid, which promotes glucose transport or utilization in the body cells. The current thinking is that Jarul can lower glucose independent of pancreatic insulin. This makes the active principle of the tree a natural form of insulin from plants. A tea, made from the leaves, served as a health drink. There are no known side effects or toxic reactions of Jarul. In fact, it has been reported that it can help detoxify the body and protect the liver.

This species is also known by the name 'Pride of India' and it certainly merits this name attributed to it. It one of the well-known ornamental trees and is widely cultivated in home-gardens & as an avenue tree. It is perfect tree for urban societies. In full bloom, the pale greens and variegated clusters of beautiful flowers stand out as a relief against the dense darkness of the cement jungle.


Another similar species from the same genus is Crape Myrtle or Common Crape (Lagerstroemia Indica/सावनी). This deciduous tree is among the longest blooming trees with flowering periods of almost 4 months. Its attractive foliage and good frost & drought-tolerance; all combine to make Crape Myrtle a favorite small tree for any landscape. It is highly recommended for planting in urban and suburban areas.

The flowers are borne in summer in big showy clusters which will catch one’s eyes even from a distance. Another fascinating fact is the flowers come in many shades of pink, white, crimson, lavender and red with crimped petals. 

Crape Myrtle grows best in full sun in almost any kind of soil sand, loam or clay.
It will tolerate less hospitable positions in the landscape just as well. It grows well in limited soil spaces in urban areas such as along roads, in parking lots, and in small pavement cutouts if provided with some irrigation until well established.

The difference between both of these Myrtles is the size of flowers, leaves & the tree is smaller in Crape Myrtle than that of Queen’s Crape Myrtle. Though a smaller version of Queen’s Crape Myrtle, the Crape Myrtle is not at all lesser when it comes to attractiveness, usefulness and beauty..!