The Future of Biofuel

It must have been 40° C + outside, but when you spot this tree, it provide a nice green canopy and offer a cool, soothing welcome despite of the heat. Indian Beech tree, Karanj or Pongam tree (Millettia Pinnata/करंज) is an ever-green, moderated sized tree.

Pongam tree is very beautiful tree with attractive, showy, fragrant flowers; borne on racemes, are pink, light purple or white in colour. It attracts many small birds and butterflies like the Cerulean, Blue Tiger & Common Crows. They are considered good sources of pollen for honey bees. Many of these trees are just coming into bloom in the city. The flowers and new leaves generally appear together. When the trees are in flower the ground below them is usually carpeted with blooms. The flowers are used by gardeners as compost for plants requiring rich nutrients.

It is a very hardy tree and can adapt itself to varying conditions. Pongam tree can grow on most soil types ranging from stony to sandy to clayey, including Verticals. It does not do well on dry sands. It is highly tolerant of salinity and is an ideal candidate for saline soil reclamation. It is common along waterways or seashores, with its roots in fresh or salt water.

The tree is well suited to intense heat & sunlight and its dense network of lateral roots and its thick, long taproot make it drought-tolerant. The dense shade it provides slows the evaporation of surface water and its root nodules promote nitrogen fixation. Pongam tree is one of the few nitrogen fixing trees to produce seeds containing 30-40% oil.

The seeds has variety of uses. It yields thick reddish oil used for burning and for skin diseases as having bactericidal and anti-fungal properties. It also is very effective against white flies, mites and other sucking pests in all crops. In fact, almost every step in the life cycle of Pongam seeds results in a safe and useful product. Once the oil has been extracted from the seeds, the remaining seed-cake can be mixed with water and placed in an airtight environment where it ferments, producing a flammable gas and a slurry, which is a safe and highly effective organic fertilizer. The gas can be compressed and stored in small tanks for use as cooking fuel. (Biogas burns far cleaner than wood or cow dung, the traditional cooking fuels, and so causes fewer respiratory disorders.) Widespread use of gas for cooking could also help curb the rampant deforestation common to areas where wood is used as a primary fuel. The seed-cake has other uses as well.

Incorporation of leaves and the seed-cake into soils improves fertility. Dried leaves are used as an insect repellent in stored grains. The seed-cake, when applied to the soil, has pesticidal value, particularly against nematodes. Pongam tree is a fast growing tree which gives valuable fodder for livestock, especially in arid regions. They are also used as green manure. String and rope can be made from the bark fiber.

If that's not enough, the oil can also be used as Biodiesel in motor engines! Or rather, it is being used worldwide. Even in India, the Karnataka state transport department has operated buses on a diesel blended with 30% Pongam oil.

On a global scale, biofuels reduce the net emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. While it is true that any burning fuel releases carbon into the atmosphere, fossil fuels are composed of carbon previously stored below the earth’s surface in the form of oil, natural gas & coal, and as they burn they release a new load of carbon into the air. On the other hand, the carbon content of biofuels like Pongam oil has been taken directly from the atmosphere as the tree grows- on average, one hectare (2.47 acres) of Pongam tree absorbs 30 tons of carbon per year. Thus burning Pongam oil instead of fossil fuels has the overall effect of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 75% and carbon monoxide emissions by almost 50%. So planting Pongam tree may even help slow global warming.

The Pongam tree is easily raised from seeds. It is often planted in homesteads as a shade or ornamental tree and in avenue plantings along roadsides and canals. It is a preferred species for controlling soil erosion and binding sand dunes because of its thick long taproot and network of lateral roots.

In the traditional systems of medicines, Ayurveda and Unani, it is described that the tree possesses medicinal properties. Be it its root, bark, leaf, sap or flower. The tree is used as anti-inflammatory, anti-plasmodial, anti-hyperglycaemic, anti-lipidperoxidative, anti-diarrhoeal, anti-ulcer, anti-hyperammonic and antioxidant agent.

Pongam tree will do more than provide a steady source of biofuel; adult trees create shade and fix nitrogen in the soil, revitalizing scrubland into thriving fields from which farmers can maintain their livelihood.

The Golden Shower

Without doubt, this is a lovely flowering tree. Indian Laburnum  or more commonly known as, Amaltas (Cassia Fistula/बहावा, स्वर्णपुष्पी) is one of the most beautiful of our indigenous trees; it adds colour to our hills during the drier and hotter parts of summer. The beauty of the picture encompassing the extremely beautiful, bright yellow flowers of the tree is beyond words!

During the hot season when the long, drooping sprays of clear, yellow flowers clothe the tree in a mantle of gold, it is indeed a glorious sight. Each spray is more than 30 cm. in length and bears long, slim stalks with numerous, large, deliciously fragrant flowers and rounded buds. These flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies and small birds, making it an extremely showy tree in bloom.

The awesome tree is equally beautiful! In Ayurvedic medicine, Golden Shower tree is known aragvadha, meaning 'disease killer'. Its fruit pulp is used as a mild laxative, used against fevers, arthritis, vatavyadhi (nervous system diseases), all kinds of rakta-pitta (bleeding, such as hematemesis or hemorrhages), as well as cardiac conditions and stomach problems such as acid reflux. The root is considered a very strong purgative and self-medication or any use without medical supervision is strongly advised against in Ayurvedic texts.

Amaltas is the state flower of Kerala. The flowers are of ritual importance in the Vishu festival of Kerala which is considered as the first day of Zodiac calender. The Vishukkani is inseparable from Vishu. According to the age-old belief, an auspicious kani (first sight) at dawn on the Vishu day is lucky for the entire year. As a result, the Vishukkani is prepared with a lot of care to make it the most positive sight so as to bring alive a wonderful, propitious and year ahead! The feast on the Vishu day also include food items made from Neem and Mango.

There is an interesting fact related to the fruits of Amaltas. The fruits are dark-brown cylindrical in shape, 2 feet in length. The pod is hard enough and there in no way that the seeds will be dispersed after drying of the pods or so.

So how, do you think, does the natural seed dispersal of Amaltas take place?

Well Nature has it all! The seeds are enclosed in sweet pulp which has laxative properties. In forests, it is the main attraction for sloth bears and jackals. They eat the pod and seeds pass through their Gastro-Intestinal tract. Then the seeds are dropped out at different places by these animals. :-)

Amaltas is propagated from seed. Artificially, soaking in boiling water for 5 minutes and then 24 hour cold water soaking can help in germinating the seeds faster.

The tree is very useful in Apiculture. It is often utilised as shade tree or windbreak. It also gives excellent quality charcoal and tannin. The leaves provide useful green manure. Amaltas is widely planted in gardens and societies due its ornamental properties. It makes an excellent show when planted along the roads. The Laburnum Road in Mumbai has been exclusively lined with Amaltas trees and hence named so..!

The Tiger Claw

The more than a pretty tree..Indian Coral tree (Erythrina Stricta/पांगारा) is a showy, moderately spreading tree with brilliant red blossoms. It is highly valued ornamental tree which often regarded as one of the gems of floral world!

The Indian Coral is a beautiful thorny deciduous tree. The tree is a captivating sight when in bloom, with clusters of bright, orange-scarlet up-facing flower clusters sitting at the end of branchlets. This arrangement give the tree its name Tiger Claw. A Coral Tree in full bloom is always like an aviary. Sunbirds, Tits, Barbets, Mynas, Rosypastors, Babblers and Parakeets, as well as numerous bees and wasps swarm round the tree in noisy eagerness. By their love of the nectar, the flowers become fertilized. 

It is a useful agroforestry species for soil enrichment. It modulates readily and prolifically in both acid & alkaline soils. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and grows best in drier soil. It is widely used as a windbreak for soil and water conservation. The tree is said to have a beneficial influence on the soil owing to the nitrogen-feeding bacteria contained in the nodules on the roots. Hence the tree is also used in cultivation. The trees have a strong, vertical root system that does not seem to compete with adjacent crops. Its leaves also makes an excellent feed for most livestock containing fair amount of crude protein.

Coral tree is a good source of organic matter for green manure. The nitrogen rich litter-fall decomposes rapidly, making nutrients available for plant uptake. The dry foliage normally contains from 1 to 3% nitrogen. The aqueous leaf extracts of the tree have also proven highly toxic to certain nematodes which are crop-pests. Other uses contains as a support for the vine crops, as a shade tree etc.

This legendary tree is supposed to have been grown in Lord Indra's garden, from where Lord Krishna stole the flowers. Then His wives Rukmini and Satyabhama quarrelled for the possession of the precious blooms. May be because, the tree has a reputation in ancient Indian medicines. The bark and leaves are used in many traditional medicines, including Paribhadra, an Indian preparation said to destroy pathogenic parasites and relieve joint pain. Further, the extracts from the tree are used effectively against number of ailments like to kill many worm infestations, to stimulate lactation & menstruation, to relieve rheumatic joints and as a laxative, diuretic & expectorant.

Indian Coral tree is easily propagated from seed or cuttings. And generally requires little maintenance. Once established, seedlings grow rapidly. That makes the tree a perfect choice for gardens!

Gifting Trees... Turns ONE!

We all love everything that happens for the first time, don't we? The first day in school, first birthday tele-call, first love and so on.. :-)

Today is Gifting Trees...'s first anniversary and we are experiencing the similar feeling! Though I started the blog in September, it was exactly before a year when I first dedicated a couple of trees for an occasion.

It was when I visited a sanctuary, I saw a beautiful tree blooming in bright red flowers. I was amazed to see that beauty. 'Why do we prefer an introduced tree like Gulmohar instead of this?', the thought hit me at the moment. It was the Indian Coral tree. For the sake of enthusiasm, I got its pod. Unknowing what a lifeless looking pair of seeds could bring, I sowed them near my house. I just wanted a beautiful tree near my house. It was 5th May, 2010.

After a week or so, we found tiny delicate leaves emerging from the soil. The seeds were sprouting! I still remember that moment. I was so happy! It became my favourite pastime to stare at the 'new borns'. ;-)

As the days passed, I realized that growing those plants gave me a feeling of growing children and I started observing them, taking care of them and loving them! As I have dedicated them for an occasion, they became special for me. That is how the idea of Gifting Trees... took root!

Now after a year, both of saplings are growing joyfully and are nearly of 2 feet height. The journey from two lifeless appearing seeds to lively grown saplings was amazing indeed! In this one year, we are proud to say that we have planted (and grown) 29 saplings on different occasions (like birthdays, anniversaries etc) and protected 3 naturally grown (Acacia & Ziziphus) trees from felling by humans.

If only both of us could plant and protect 32 trees in a year and that's too while taking care of previously planted trees; imagine what All of us can do? Take an example of Nashik. Immaaagine what we 20 lac Nashikites can do?!

This is very lengthy process, we have just started walking and require support from You and have a firm belief that you will support us.

We all must be aware of the plant life on earth. We forget that it is vital to our existence. Without plant life, we have no life, we have no food & water and now it may be the key to our survival. As long as it survives, we survive... Nature is amazingly resilient and can adapt very well, she just takes a little push sometimes. So be the catalyst and do your part! Plant a native tree and protect it. As per one of the famous Chinese proverb, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is NOW! You will surely enjoy its priceless gifts!

Let us commit to the belief that trees are the critical element of a livable environment.