The Black Palash

Sandan (Desmodium Oojeinensis/तिवस, तिनसा, काळा-पळस) is a medium sized deciduous tree. Though very beautiful, the tree is very much neglected in urban area. It bears numerous flowers which are pinkish-white in colour, borne in short racemes. The new leaves add more beauty to it. Leaves are trifoliate, with large, rigidly leathery leaflets.

Flowering of the tree is conspicuous and afford a beautiful sight, making Sandan a versatile ornamental tree. It attracts number of birds and bees. The flowers of the tree have significant similarities to that of Palash except for the size & colour. The leaves shape is also similar up to some extent. Only significant difference is the bark of Sandan is somewhat dark brown. Hence in Marathi, tree is known as Kala Palas which means 'black Palash'.

The tree does well in lowland alluvial soils as well as on dry exposed sites & eroded hills. It also occurs on red clay, black cotton and rocky soil. Young trees and seedlings need a moderate amount of shade, but once established they require full sunlight for best development. Although young trees are frost sensitive, mature trees are hardy and drought tolerant. Sandan coppices well and produces abundant root-suckers. This characteristic is particularly useful for controlling soil erosion along steep banks and eroded hillsides.

Sandan also has numerous uses. The wood is hard, tough, close-grained, elastic and durable. It is highly valued in India for making agricultural implements. It is also a specialty timber for marine plywood. A red, transparent, astringent gum is obtained from the trunk. Bark fibres are suitable for making rope. Sandan has a range of medicinal uses which include astringent, antipyretic, anti-dysenteric.

It is propagated by seeds & root cuttings. Seeds should be soaked in water for 24 hours before sowing. This facilitates germination.

The tree comes up readily in blanks in the forest, on hilly slopes, landslips and bare places. In addition, this species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria; these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. This could make it a valuable pioneer agroforestry species!

The White Fig

White Fig (Ficus Virens/लघुपिंपरी, पायर, पाईर) is a moderate to large sized deciduous fig with a spreading canopy. It is a beautiful shade tree wirh dense green foliage. New leafs emerge in March with colors of purple, red & bronze, giving the tree a wonderful look, very pleasing to the eye. The color transformation goes on till April. The aerial roots commonly wrap around the main stem instead of forming props.

The leaves have similar texture as that of Peepal tree and have a whitish midrib. The stipules are short, measuring less than 1 cm. The pea-sized figs appear in pairs and greenish-white to brown in colour with spots.

It is interesting to now that figs have a unique form of fertilization, each species relying on a single, highly specialized species of wasp that is itself totally dependant upon that fig species in order to breed. The tree produces three types of flower; male, a long-styled female and a short-styled female flower, often called the gall flower. All three types of flower are contained within the structure we usually think of as the fruit.

The female fig wasp enters a fig and lays its eggs on the short styled female flowers while pollinating the long styled female flowers. Wingless male fig wasps emerge first, inseminate the emerging females and then bore exit tunnels out of the fig for the winged females. Females emerge, collect pollen from the male flowers and fly off in search of figs whose female flowers are receptive. In order to support a population of its pollinator, individuals of a Ficus species must flower asynchronously. A population must exceed a critical minimum size to ensure that at any time of the year at least some plants have overlap of emission and reception of fig wasps. Without this temporal overlap the short-lived pollinator wasps will go locally extinct.

This tree is a fig belonging to the group of trees known as Strangler figs, which often begins life as an epiphyte. The seeds are dispersed by birds which tend to germinate on other trees. They grow to strangle and eventually kill the host tree, thus establishing itself as a winner.

According to Ayurveda, the tree has several medicinal properties to its name. It is known to be useful in treating cough, bronchitis, fever, headache and cold. In folk medicine it is used as a diuretic, for rheumatism of joints and muscles for gout, for bladder and kidney diseases. A decoction of the bark is used in the treatment of leucorrhoea. The herb is used for stomach complaints with hyperacidity, prophylaxis and therapy of stomach ulcers and for diarrhoea in children.

White fig is a potential agroforestry species; or rather in some parts of India, it is being used as one. The leaves are used as animal feed. The tannin and dye obtained from the bark has been used in respective industries. The tree is harvested for local use as a medicine, food and source of latex. It is sometimes cultivated as shade tree in coffee plantations. The tree is occasionally used as host tree for lac insects. The fig gives shelter to many birds, insects and arboreal mammals. The leaves are eaten boiled as a vegetable in Northern Thai curries.

White fig is also grown as an ornamental and shade tree along avenues. This tree has become popular as an avenue tree in and around the cities of New Delhi and Noida. It is suitable for plantation in parks and large gardens.

The Tree with Stars!

From a distance, the flowers may appear like stars or snow flakes on a tree giving a beautiful appearance to the tree. This summer-bloomer is easy to spot either due to the flowers or its typical pods. Sweet Indrajao or Pala-Indigo (Wrightia Tinctoria/ काळा-कुडा, दुधी) is a small, deciduous tree with white, fragrant flowers. Due to its small size, the beauty & medicinal properties, the tree strongly needs to be introduced to urban areas.

When in bloom, it is one of the spectacular beauties to see. You just can't take your eyes off the tree. The fruits appear in pendulous pairs and coherent only at the tip. The hairy seeds are released as the fruit dehisces. 

It is a good agroforestry species as it inter-crop well. It can stand a wide range of soil types and is suitable for arid, semi-arid and moist regions, especially dry sandy sites or hillsides and valleys. The tree parts are known to be used as food in many regions. The flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds may be eaten as vegetables. The branches are trampled into the puddle soil in rice field for green manuring. Thus it acts as a soil improver. It coppices well & grows moderately fast. The leaves are lopped for livestock fodder.

The tree is known as Dudhi in India because of its preservative nature. Supposedly a few drops of its sap in milk prevent curdling and enhance its shelf life, without the need of refrigeration. The leaves yield a blue dye called Pala Indigo.

The pods contain floss or cotton-like substance, which is used for stuffing cushions. The liquid latex of tree can be used as a renewable source of hydrocarbons and intermediate energy resources. Latex is also a source of rubber. It is also useful in dyes & tanning industries.

In Indian traditional medicine, the bark and leaves are used to treat psoriasis, stomach pains and dysentery. The seeds are said to be aphrodisiac and anthelminthic. Seeds also yield deep red, semi-drying oil, which has medicinal value.

So many uses and relatively very easy to propagate from seeds. Isn’t it a wonderful species?! A very important & attractive tree for city gardens and tree lovers!

The Blue Mist Tree

Ironwood tree or Anjani (Memecylon Umbellatum/अंजनी) is a small, evergreen tree with amazing bright blue flowers and with dense, dark green foliage. The tree is a predominant arboreal species in the dry evergreen and semi-deciduous tropical forests along the western and eastern coasts. It is also known as ‘Pride of Matheran’ as it is found in abundance at the famous hill station Matheran, in Maharashtra.

The flowers are mildly scented and are so beautiful that they look almost unreal. The tree produces showy clusters of tiny purple flowers, which are grouped in great quantity in axillary umbrellas, close together and compact, appear in the lower part of the branches having no leaves. The trees bloom once or twice a year and are then indeed a beautiful sight. As the flower petals are shed, the soil below appears purple in colour. May be that’s why the tree is also called Blue Mist tree. 

The fruits of Ironwood tree are small, about 1cm and are green, turning red then black as they ripen. The fruits are pulpy, astringent & edible and were consumed in the past during famine periods. The leaf edges look golden if held against light. All together flowers, fruits and leaves make it a wonderful play of colours. 

This tree is not only beautiful, but also useful. It provides hard timber used for making boats. Dyes employed in the textile factories are extracted from its leaves and flowers. Although the species is widespread in nature and is much appreciated by the local populations, it is relatively little known in urban localities. It is a tough species having a long tap-root system. It usually & easily reproduces by seeds and the growth is moderately fast. 

The tree had a long history of traditional uses for wide range of diseases. It has been proved that various parts of the plant were used in traditional systems of Ayurveda to treat various ailments. In recent years it has been experimentally proved that the plant possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, hypoglycemic, antimicrobial, anti-spasmodic, nephro-protective and hepato-protective activity. In Ayurveda, the leaves are used as a cooling astringent and are given in leucorrhoea & gonorrhea. The leaves are reported to possess antiviral activity and also used in snakebite. The seeds are used to cure cough and sedative. Anjani is one of the important medicinal plants used by Paliyan tribes in Sirumalai hills of Eastern Ghats of India, especially for skin diseases.

We should not underestimate its potentiality as Agroforestry species. The tree can be used as windbreaks at farms. Also it does not compete with adjacent plants for water due to the long tap-root. Without doubt, it is an ornamental plant having showy blooming which, almost entirely, covers the branches in the part bearing no leaves. The flowers and fruits are visited by bees, butterflies and birds; increasing its natural beauty beyond limits! 

The Mountain Tree

In Hindu mythology, it is believed that while traveling to Lanka, the tree sprouted from the drop of nectar that fell from the bodies of the God Rama’s monkeys, which were restored to life by Indra, the supreme king of the Hindu gods. Hence the name Indrajao or Indrajav. Though a well known species in ancient literature of Ayurveda; it is a beautiful and impressive species in first place. Indrajao or Kurchi tree (Holarrhena Pubescens/इंद्रजव, कुटज, पांढरा कुडा) is a deciduous, small tree. 

The flowers are aromatic & bright white which turn creamish yellow as they age; with oblong five petals rounded at the tip. White flowers appear in corymbose cymes at the end of branches. Profuse flowering can be seen from April to July. Fruits are paired, dehiscing follicles hanging from the stalk. 

The flower of Indrajao reminds one of an introduced genus Plumeria, commonly known as Frangipani. But similar appearance can not guarantee the virtues. An introduced species is introduced after all. How can it compete or even match the goodness of native Indrajao..?!

Widely known in Ayurveda by the name Kutaja; its numerous healing properties has been mentioned in the Vedas. It has been used to treat several gastro-intestinal diseases for hundreds of years and is still used by several Indian tribes to cure ailments like epilepsy, anemia, skin infections and cholera, apart from digestive problems. It is a one of the best drug for Amoebic Dysentery or Diarrhoea. The tree is also useful in Rheumatic Arthritis & Osteoarthritis. Indrajao also possesses potent immuno-stimulant property. Its scented white flowers improve appetite and its seeds act as a cooling agent. The tree is propagates with seeds. The seeds should be soaked in cold water for 24 hours and then sown. This will increase the germination rate.

In Sanskrit, 'Kuta' means mountain. The tree which grows in mountain region is Kutaja. Thus, it can grow in tough conditions and grows moderately fast. It tolerates variety of soils, and can grow even in degraded land. It is believed to improve the soil where it grows. Shade retards its growth but it can tolerate full sun. As an effective screen or as a taller hedge, this species can be planted in a continuous row. It does well in tough sites even with little watering and it requires almost no maintenance. Indrajao with its short stem, many branches and little broad crown converts the corner of a residential area into a pictorial patch. Its bright white mildly fragrant flowers add grace to the garden. The tree performs well in the urban environment.

The Pink Pearl!

Indian Cherry (Cordia Dichotoma/भोकर, गोंधण, लसोडा) is a medium sized, almost evergreen tree with a short bole & spreading crown. It is a very important species when it comes to avifauna and arboreal animals.

The flowers are small, short-stalked, bisexual, white in colour. Flowers open only at night, hence hardly noticed. Fruits are sweet, sticky & edible; yellow or pinkish-yellow shining globose which turns black on ripening. The immature fruits are pickled and are also used as a vegetable. The tree shed leaves for a short period in early summer. It has elliptical to broadly ovate shaped, bright green leaves.

Being a quick-growing fruit tree, performing well under semi-arid conditions, Indian Cherry is suitable for planting along boundary & farm roads. The tree coppices and pollards well. The leaves are fed upon by butterfly larvae of the Oakblue butterfly and are also lopped for fodder. The seed kernel has medicinal properties and has potential as cattle feed. It is often cultivated for its fruits. It is propagated by seeds. Young seedlings are damaged by browsing and fire, but have good power of recovery from these injuries.

There are many medicinal properties and usages of Bahuvaraka mentioned in traditional literature of Ayurveda and Materia Medica. The fruits are used as an expectorant and astringent. They are also considered useful for treating all diseases related to the lungs. In Unani medicine, the fruits are considered to be anthelmintic, diuretic, expectorant, anti-inflamatory & purgative. They are used for treating dry cough, diseases of the chest and urethra, in biliousness and chronic fever, joint pains and diseases of the spleen as well. The inhabitants of Bhadrak District in Odisha take the fruit juice orally as a blood-purifier. A decoction of Indian Cherry bark is considered useful for the relief of dyspepsia and fevers, as well. It is also reported to possess anti-diabetic, anti-ulcerative, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulator and analgesic activity.

Though small, the flowers are delicately beautiful; which attracts bees and butterflies. When in season, various birds and arboreal mammals tend to be the greatest enthusiasts of the sticky pink fruit. Being as valuable as a pearl to our Environment, the tree might have given the name 'Pink Pearl'! Truly its a gem for tree-lovers!! :) 

The Crape Flower

Small Flowered Crape Myrtle or simply, Crape Flower (Lagerstroemia Parviflora/लेंदीया, बोंडारा) is a  moderate-sized deciduous tree which is a very common tree both in the moist and dry deciduous forest in many parts of India. Just like Queen's Crape Myrtle, it is a beautiful tree that you can not ignore when flowering.

In April-June, the tree flowers profusely with small white flowers which are borne in 2-6 flowers clusters in leaf axils and at the end of branches. Flowers are mildly fragrant and attract loads of bees, insects and butterflies. You may also spot various birds and fly-catchers hunting on these insects when flowering is at its peak.

Fruit is oval and is surrounded by a persistent sepal-cup at base. The fruit dehisces dispersing the winged seeds. It is propagated by seeds. For seed collection, you may have to visit the tree when the fruits are mature but not dehisced; or else you may not find the seeds. 

Till now this plant is used in India for the treatment of different diseases. The Santals of Chotanagpur region of India uses the leaves of this plant for treatment of infection and chronic sores. The plant finds wide applications by the tribal women in overcoming lactation problems. Traditional folklore opined that the whole plant can be used for treatment of strangulation of intestine and syphilis. Cough, fever, asthma and bronchitis can also be effectively well controlled by this plant. Leaf decoction cures fever while extracts derived from flowers cures chronic dysentery and abdominal pain. The tree is known to possess anti-inflammatory, antipyretic & antitussive properties.

Crape Myrtle is a light demander and drought resistant species. Though the seedlings are killed by severe frosts, but older trees and coppice shoots are frost-resistant. It grows on a variety of soils, but does not thrive on waterlogged soils. It recovers well after fire. The tree coppices and pollards well, regrowing vigorously. The tree yields a useful timber called Ben-teak. A sweet flavored edible gum is obtained from the tree.

Though Crape Myrtle is rarely sighted in urban and sub-urb area, it could become a perfect garden tree in cities. First of all, it is a slow-growing tree. Plus, you can keep it small by prunning. It won’t utilize much of your residential or commercial space. The leaves are not palatable to cattle and hence are not browsed by cattle. And last but not least, it flaunts white, fragrant flowers in dense showy masses…A unique species having all-in-one qualities of an urban species. 

Waras..The One who takes Care!

Waras (Heterophragma Quadriloculare/वारस) is an important native species of India. A large deciduous tree which is noticeably attractive when in bloom.

Its flowers occur in terminal panicles, which are densely velvet covered. They are rose-tinged white in colour and fragrant. Flowering occurs during the beginning of the hot season. The flowers have a characteristic pleasant smell which attracts bees & insects. The tree is exclusively pollinated at night by large Carpenter bees. Being highly mobile, these bees cover long distances in the search of the tree.

Leaves are compound, pinnate & crowded near the end of branches, giving dense shade. Waras harbor numbers of insects and birds. Due to its height and dense leaves, numerous birds prefer this tree as nesting sight. Hence bird-lovers prefer this tree!

Being attractive, large and dense foliage, the tree once used to be commonly planted along highways with Banyan, Peepal, Neem etc. Guess our forefathers were more intellectual than us as they preferred the indigenous species along highways. This way, travelers could enjoy the traveling and could use the shade for rest. Hence this tree is highly recommended for plantation along highways. The tree is propagated by seeds.

It is interesting to note that generally, deciduous trees shade leaves in summer. But Waras shade its leaves somewhat in Rainy season and is laden with leaves during summer; giving dense shade when it needs the most.

Waras provide green mulch, needed for reclamation of eroded lands. It also prevents soil erosion. Leaves can be used as fodder. The tree is believed to be used for treating skin diseases. It is also supposed to possess antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Waras is a Marathi word which also means ‘belongs to’ or ‘the one who takes care’. Waras literally takes care not only of birds , bees, insects & humans, but of our environment also. May be that’s why the tree has no name in english; for there is no single word in english describing the tree..! ;-) 

The Deer's Horn

Indian Screw tree (Helicteres Isora/मुरुडशेंग, केवण) is a small deciduous tree having serrated leaves & uniquely beautiful, nectary flowers in sparse clusters. Due to small size and attractive flowers, the tree is suitable for plantation in cities.

Flowers are bright orange-red or crimson coloured when young and turn purplish before fruiting. The colour changing patterns of flowers make the tree attractive & very delightful to watch. The unique, twisted, screw like shape of the fruit is what lends most of it names like Screw tree, Maror Phali, Deer's Horn.

It flowers during July to September. They are pollinated mainly by sunbirds & Flower Peckers. The caterpillars of Common Sailer and Golden Angle feed on this plant. It is also visited by many other butterflies and insects like ants, bees, sawflies, wasps etc. Hence the presence of this impressive tree in your neighborhood will attract not only your neighbor's attention, but also different birds and insects. 

Indian Screw tree possesses an impressive range of nutritional and medicinal properties. Medicinally, it is a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants of therapeutic importance. Investigations have indicated that the plant has antioxidant, anticancer, anti-diabetic and antimicrobial properties. The fruits are used in treating intestinal complaints, colic pains and flatulence. Roots are known to be useful in diabetes, diarrhea, dysentery & convulsions. The roots & stem barks are considered to be expectorant, demulcent, astringent; and are used in scabies, biliousness. Fried pods are advised to kill intestinal worms. 

The tree is hardy and can tolerate degraded soils. It also withstands dry periods. It easily propagates from seeds. The bark is the source of a strong fibre. It is used as cordage for making cots, tying cattle and ploughs. It is also good for making ropes and clothing.


Basically, Indian Screw tree is a wonderful tree having so many virtues to its name. It is a must species to have for any Nature lover!

Our Ecosystems : Soil

A farm, a rain forest or a residential colony..what is the similarity between these three? Well, the answer is that none of these familiar scenes could exist without soil. We simply can not survive without it. Soil is not just ‘what crops grow in’ as we know or not just ‘what full of bacteria’ as we see in soap advertisements; but it is much more besides. The reality is it plays an important role in producing our food, clothing and shelter we need. It also provides a base for our industries and many of our leisure activities. In spite of this dependence, we often treat the soil as if it were an inexhaustible resource which we do not need to care for! We take it for granted!!

Nowadays, most people are more aware of environmental issues. Acid rain, air pollution, global warming, conserving endangered plants and animals, to name but a few, have all received a great deal of attention in recent years. Yet why do we rarely consider that the soil beneath our feet may be affected by an equally diverse range of problems? To many people, soil is just ‘dirt’, something that is used for growing plants in the back garden, or that farmers use for producing crops. But there is far more to soil than this. Without soil, life as we know it simply would not be able to exist. Without a range of soils we would not be able to enjoy so many different habitats, plants and animals, nor would we be able to put the soil to the number of uses that we do to benefit society.

Soil is a vital part of the natural environment. It is just as important as plants, animals, rocks, landforms, lakes and rivers! How?

It harbors all of the plant species and provides a habitat for a wide range of organisms. It controls the flow of water and chemical substances between the atmosphere and the Earth, and acts as both a source and store for gases (like oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. Soils not only reflect natural processes but also record human activities both at present and in the past. It is therefore part of our cultural heritage.

Soil, together with the plant and animal life it supports, its position in the landscape and the climate it experiences, form an amazingly intricate natural system - more powerful and complex than any machine that man has created. Soil may look still and lifeless, but this impression couldn’t be further from the truth. It is constantly changing and developing through time. Soil is always responding to changes in environmental factors, along with the influences of man and land use. Some changes in the soil will be of short duration and reversible, others will be a permanent feature of soil development.

A difficulty with soils being underneath us is that we cannot really see when things are going wrong, as we can when plants and animals disappear or die.

But why we need to know all this?
Soil can look after itself, can’t it?

There is a tendency of humans to assume that everything is ‘all right’. But, in many parts of the world, misuse of the soil has brought about a whole list of major environmental disasters. In both the past and at present, this neglect has led to catastrophic consequences. The effect of drought on over-farmed land is a familiar example, but there is good evidence that the collapse of several ancient civilizations were influenced at least in part by mismanagement of the soil.

Whilst the situation around us is not like this, there are still several issues of concern. Soil erosion, pollution, acidification, loss of fertility and loss of organic matter all occur in different parts of the country. These problems result either directly or indirectly from using inappropriate management techniques on particular soils.

It should be evident that when we talk about nature conservation and environmental protection the well-being of soils must also be a major consideration.

Soil is essential for many of mankind’s activities. Yet it is a part of our environment which is frequently taken for granted. We only start to take notice when it becomes damaged in some way, for example by pollution or erosion.

Even then, the damage to the soil itself is not always the main issue. Instead, it is the follow-on effects on other parts of the environment that receive much of the attention. We must understand that the rate of soil development is extremely slow. It has taken hundreds, thousands and, in some environments, millions of years to produce the range of soils that exist today. The soil is not an unlimited resource to be lost or damaged by poor management as just a few years of inappropriate use can, in some instances, seriously harm a soil which has developed over centuries.

Soils are also home to an amazingly large number of different organisms. In fact, scientists believe that there are probably more individual species living below ground than above the surface. We have as yet only identified a fraction of them. Worms, beetles, caterpillars, ants and larger animals like rodents are all obvious soil creatures. However, just one teaspoon of soil will also contain up to several million protozoa (probably the simplest form of animal life), bacteria, algae and nematodes. Many of these species are vital to the proper functioning of soils.

The life sustaining ability of soil is best understood by appreciating the complex cycles of decay and erosion. Its natural formation occurs in a series of layers starting at the surface but gradating down to the deepest bedrock. The surface layer is where active decomposition begins. Exposure to atmospheric elements, surface warmth and moisture helps to break organic matter into loose mulch like material. At the microscopic level, this layer is teeming with a diversity of bacterial, fungal and algal life forms. In combination with larger organisms like beetles and worms they provide the additional recycling activity to enable minerals and nutrients to be retrieved from the decaying organic matter and returned to the soil. Another family of soil based micro-organisms are involved in relationships that enable plants to absorb nitrogen from their roots.

Ideally the layer directly beneath the surface will be humus rich topsoil. The quality of this topsoil will depend on the amount of organic material available near the surface and the activity of the recycling organisms. So if there is enough of organic matter and organisms, the soil there must be healthy and fertile.

But what do we actually do near our house..?

We don’t want the fallen leaves near our residence. So we either burn the leaves or do not allow the plants to grow there. Burning the garden leaves not only pollute the air & remove the moisture from soil, but it disrupt the soil biology also. We also want our surrounding to be clean and free of dirt. So we cover the soil with garden tiles.  And then, as per our eco-friendly gesture (???), we have no other option but to plant in pots or containers, & to buy the fertile soil from nurseries. If one really want to see how ‘eco-friendly’ this act is, then he/she should visit the site from which the nursery soil comes. The more effective, worthy, easy and cheaper way will be to protect & impregnate the soil we have..!

How?

One of the ways to achive this is by planting native trees on the ground soil and not in the garden pots. Composting and Mulching (the application of organic or inorganic material such as plant debris, compost, etc.) help to slow down the surface run-off, improves the soil moisture, reduces evaporation losses and improves soil fertility.

A coastal rainforest provides almost ideal conditions for the creation of richly fertile topsoil. With increased temperatures and humidity an abundance of organic material reaching the ground begins to decompose almost immediately. It is then broken down by organisms which thrive under the conditions. The entire process is accelerated resulting in a generous layer of finely blended topsoil.

From the perspective of the organic grower, good soil structures need to be protected. This can be achieved by minimizing digging, replacing disrupted layers in their correct order when necessary and renewing surface layers by providing a supply of organic material such as compost and manure. The addition of organic material will improve the water and nutrient holding ability of the soil.

Our future depends on the soil beneath us. In some countries, particularly like United States and Netherlands, soils are believed to be worthy of conservation. Both of these countries have specific legislation to protect soils and the Dutch express this by saying that we should regard ourselves as “guests in our environment, not masters of it”. Soils are far more important to human and environmental well-being than we often give them credit for. Just because they are out of sight, they should not be out of mind!

Our Ecosystems : Water

When pure, it is odorless and tasteless. It is the only substance that is found naturally in all three states. It's in your body, the food you eat and the beverages you drink. You use it to clean yourself, your clothes, your dishes, your car and everything else around you. Many of the products that you use every day either contain it or were manufactured using it. All forms of life need it and if they don't get enough of it, they die. Political disputes have centered around it. In some places, it's treasured and incredibly difficult to get. In others, it's incredibly easy to get and then wasted. It is an essential element to life on Earth. Our Blue planet's most of the surface is covered with lots of it.

Water... We have plenty of it. What if I tell you that we have limited water on our planet like petroleum. I shall thought to be a nut. But the fact is, Earth has less water than you think!

More than 97% of the water on the Earth is salt water. Remaining is categorized as fresh water; about 70% of which is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. The remaining unfrozen freshwater is found mainly as groundwater, with only a small fraction present above ground or in the air.

If you were to take all of the water on Earth - all of the fresh water, sea water, ground water, water vapour and water inside our bodies.. take all of it and somehow collect it into a single, giant sphere of liquid, how big do you think it would be?


According to the US Geological Survey, it would make a ball 1,400 km in diameter. That’s it. And this takes into consideration all the Earth’s water… even the stuff humans can’t drink or directly access, like salt water, water vapour in the atmosphere and the water locked up in the ice caps. If you were to take into consideration only the fresh water on Earth which accessible to humans, you’d get a much smaller sphere of about 56 km across..!

So there is small fraction of water, and we need water for almost everything we do. Agricultural, industrial, household, recreational, environmental activities etc...virtually all of these human uses require fresh water.

Thanks to rain, fresh water is a renewable resource. Yet the world's supply of clean, fresh water is steadily decreasing. Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world and as the world population continues to rise, so does the water demand too.

Day-by-day demand keeps growing, further draining water sources, from great rivers to underground aquifers. We are going deeper & deeper into soil for groundwater, and that has very significant impacts for global water security. Groundwater resources have been heavily over-used worldwide. The rate of groundwater depletion has doubled in last 4 decades. Still we are pumping many of the aquifers out faster than they are recharged. Somehow, we need to bring withdrawals into balance with recharge.

Summer comes to India every year. Along with it comes water crisis. As our rivers start running dry a way before summer, Water is becoming a cause for social conflicts. Recently you might have noticed a survey in newspaper & media showing global water shortages that will be particularly felt in India and China. Rainfall patterns altered by climate change and worsened by inequity in the water distribution system has led to a water crisis in the Central India and many other parts. The poorest areas are being affected the most because of inequitable water distribution. If this isn't a wake-up call of what water scarcity can do to a society, may God bless us!

Is there any solution for these Water Wars..?

Rain, of course!

Water in rivers, lakes, ponds and wells, underground water, tap water & even bottled water..The source of all water is Rain.

Let us apply this understanding: in order to meet demand, then, what we actually need to do is harvest the rain. In India the monsoon is brief. We get about 100 hours of rain in a year. It is this 100-hour bounty that must be caught, stored and used over the 8,760 hours that make up a year.

But..

In urban areas, the construction of houses, societies, footpaths and roads has left very little exposed earth for water to seep in. In parts of the rural areas of India, floodwater quickly flows to the rivers, which then dry up soon after the rains stop. Furthermore, floodwater also cause erosion.

How to harvest Rain???

We have to catch water where it falls.

In the forests, water seeps gently into the ground due to roots of the trees. This groundwater in turn feeds wells, lakes, and rivers. Protecting forests means protecting water catchments. In ancient India, people believed (and the modern science has proved) that forests are the 'mothers' of rivers and must be worshipped the sources of these water bodies. Flora also prevent floods.

Planting of trees, grass and bushes breaks the force of rain and helps rainwater penetrate the soil. It slows down run-off and minimizes evaporation losses. Shelter belts of trees and bushes along the edge of agricultural fields can help water seep into the ground and recharge the groundwater supply. They also slow down the wind speed and reduce evaporation and erosion.

Implementation of Urban rain water harvesting systems has proved to be effective in recharging the aquifers. The CSE Water Campaign, when it looks into the future, sees only hope. From rain will come local food security. From rain will come biomass-wealth that will eradicate ecological poverty. From rain will come social harmony..!

Water is a precious resource, not a commodity. But we need to understand that every drop is important or someday, we will be forced to pay heavily for it...

World Environment Day!

One more Environment Day has gone. Few more events of tree plantation, some award functions for working for environment and few speeches by influential people about our degrading environment..that's it! So we have done our bit for nature and till next 5th June, we need not worry about our environment. This is all what the Environment Day mean to us. But actually, there is much more beyond that..!

Let us try something different this time... Go and trail round your neighborhood garden or forest and explore. This is the best time to see trees, loaded with fruits or pods; like Mango, NeemJava Plum, Indian Coral tree, Mahua etc. Identify and collect seeds from the many different trees that grow naturally in your area. You may plant few seeds. You may even stock up them for the next year.

Planting a tree seed is the smallest thing but possibly the grandest gesture you can do today..! It can be a pip from a Golden Apple, a samara from an Indian Rosewood or a winged seed from Drumstick tree. Monsoon is all set to arrive. The rain brings new life..especially for trees. This season, seeds are eager to sprout, dreaming to become a tree and trees tend to grow at higher speed.

All you have to do is make sure they are the seeds of trees that found naturally or native to the place in which you live. Your one single action gains significance as it grows.

Just remember and make sure that you plant it where it won't be causing problem for anyone in future. After all, in a few years we don't want someone cutting down what you have so carefully sown all those years ago. Planting near your home, on a private land or alongside of the roads might be fair enough.

Doing small things can achieve big things. The very seed you planted in the soil is proof of that. A living example of how from small things even greater things emerge and grow..! :)

Each one of us has a place and a role to play in the incredible web of life and each one of us can make a difference.

Let this be the idea, the thought, perhaps the hope that you can do something for environment..and for ourselves. That you can help to maintain our ecosystem. An ecosystem is not made up only of living components like animals, plants, microbes etc, but also of non-living components like water, soil, sun-light, atmosphere etc; respectively known as Biotic and Abiotic components. Our next few posts will be dedicated to understanding the inter-relation of these abiotic factors with the biotic ones. It will be one more step to know the ecosystem we live in, better.

We TWO!

In the soaring heat of May, we are experiencing a cool breeze. How? Yes, here are we again..celebrating Gifting Trees...'s second anniversary.

Marking the two years of Gifting Trees, we are adding a new segment in conserving native trees... Tree Rescue!


This is the status of our sacred native trees, isn't it? WE all, educated illiterates (पढ़ेलिखे गवार, साक्षर अनाडी) are busy in widening our highways, we are moving to big cities. And so we are cutting these trees which were planted by our forefathers. But we can't see the importance of our sacred native trees. May be hence we are habituated to plant introduced trees. But Mother Nature haven't..! She knows what's right and what's wrong. She keeps trying to plant these sacred trees with the help of birds.

But do we allow to grow trees on our walls or midway on the roads? No, we cut them. But there is another way to have these blessings of Mother Nature. We just have to transplant these saplings to a right place where the sapling can take roots freely and flourish. For example, Banyan, Peepal, Cluster Figs are species which can be seen growing on walls, buildings. Eventually either the growing saplings die due to lack of water/space or are cut/removed by humans for obvious reason. What we can do is just to transplant them carefully alongside of roads, near residential area or near a temple.

Similarly at the end of summer or just in the beginning of rains, trees like Neem, Jamun, Pongam, Ber etc have numerous seedlings grown beneath them due to their fallen fruits/seeds. Practically, it is very difficult to survive & grow under a big tree and its not advisable to just let these seedlings grow, especially in urban areas. These seedlings can easily be transferred to polybags to grow and then can be used for plantation.

We two, my father and me, have rescued about 45 saplings/seedlings till date and successfully planted few of them too! Also as today is our 2nd anniversary, we are pleased to announce that in this last year, we have planted (and grown) 18 saplings and taken care of them along with those of the previously planted.

5th May also is the Climate Impacts Day. Is that a co-incidence?! Lets Come together and Connect the dots.

Nakshatra is Forever!

The concept of adoption of a plant is been derived from Indian cultural history. The Indian astrology is based on the concept of Nakshatras (Constellations) and Rashis (as per moon signs). There are in all 27 Nakshatras present in a year and every individual has a Nakshatra assigned to him/her depending on the date and time on which he/she is born (the tithi).

Every Nakshatra has a symbolic tree or plant that defines its connection with eternal nature. In our Indian culture there was a tradition that whenever a baby is born in someone’s home, that person was supposed to plant a tree of the same Nakshatra on which the baby was born. The person was supposed to take care of the tree as his child because it was believed that the more good and healthy the tree will grow, it will prosper more health and happiness to the child.

If these trees have been assigned to the 27 nakshatras by the Vedic Rishis, than it will be worthwhile for us to know which tree belongs to our Janma Nakshatra (Birth Constellation) and to have some idea about its medicinal values or other applications.

So the presence of the complete set of 27 trees directly creates a healthy and sound physical, mental, psychological and spiritual beings; which is the ultimate and absolute bliss to oneself and to the Earth too!

Trees corresponding to Nakshtras and Rashis :

Sr. No. : 1
Nakshatra Name : Ashwini
Moon Sign : Aries
Lord : Ketu
Tree/Plant : Strychnine tree, Poison Nut (कुचला)
Latin Name : Strychnous Nux-Vomica
It is important medicinal tree which has its mention in ancient system of medicine. The seeds of ripe fruit are poisonous, hence the name.

Sr. No. : 2
Nakshatra Name : Bharani
Moon Sign : Aries
Lord : Venus
Tree/Plant : Amla, Indian Gooseberry (आवळा)
Latin Name : Phyllanthus Emblica

Sr. No. : 3
Nakshatra Name : Kritika
Moon Sign : Aries
Lord : Sun
Tree/Plant : Cluster Fig (औदुंबर)
Latin Name : Ficus Racemosa
The Rashi tree for Aries is Red Sandalwood (Pterocarpus Santalinus/रक्तचंदन). Being a rare species, plantation of this tree has its importance. It has tremendous medicinal properties and is mentioned number of times in Ayurveda. This tree is believed to purify air from toxic substances.

Sr. No. : 4
Nakshatra Name : Rohini
Moon Sign : Taurus
Lord : Moon
Tree/Plant : Jamun, Java Plum (जांभूळ)
Latin Name : Syzygium Cumini

Sr. No. : 5
Nakshatra Name : Mrig
Moon Sign : Taurus
Lord : Mars
Tree/Plant : Cutch tree (खैर)
Latin Name : Acacia Catechu

The Rashi tree for Taurus is Indian Devil tree, Blackboard tree (Alstonia Scolaris/सप्तपर्णी). It is an elegant fast-growing evergreen tree. With or without flowering, it is equally beautiful. It has many medicinal properties to its name. It is often planted as an ornament. 

Sr. No. : 6
Nakshatra Name : Ardra
Moon Sign : Gemini
Lord : Rahu
Tree/Plant : Black Ebony, Tendu (टेंभूर्णी, तेंदू)
OR
Krushnagus
Latin Name : Diospyros Melanoxylon
OR
Aquillaria Agalocha

Sr. No. : 7
Nakshatra Name : Punarvasu
Moon Sign : Gemini
Lord : Jupiter
Tree/Plant : Velu
Latin Name : Bambusa Arundinacea
It is basically a fast-growing type of grass which provide shelter place to many small birds. Its medicinal virtues are often neglected by gardeners who consider it as a messy plant. Actually speaking, it provide good quantity of mulch.

The Rashi tree for Gemini is Pala-Indigo tree (Wrightia Tinctoria/काळा-कुडा). Locally, it is also known as Dudhi.

Sr. No. : 8
Nakshatra Name : Pushya
Moon Sign : Cancer
Lord : Saturn
Trees/Plant : Peepal, Sacred Fig (पिंपळ)
Latin Name : Ficus Religiosa



Sr. No. : 9
Nakshatra Name : Ashlesha
Moon Sign : Cancer
Lord : Mercury
Trees/Plant : Beauty Leaf tree, Alexandrian Laurel (नागचाफा, उंडी)
Latin Name : Calophylum Inophyllum
It is an evergreen beautiful tree which tolerates variety of soils. It has fragrant flowers & is often planted for ornamental purpose. The oil extracted from the seeds is used as Biodiesel in USA & Europe.

The Rashi tree for Cancer is Palash (Butea Monosperma/पळस)

Sr. No. : 10
Nakshatra Name : Magha
Moon Sign : Leo
Lord : Ketu
Trees/Plant : Banyan (वड, वट)
Latin Name : Ficus Benghalensis



Sr. No. : 11
Nakshatra Name : Poorva Phalguni
Moon Sign : Leo
Lord : Venus
Trees/Plant : Palash, Parrot tree (पळस)
Latin Name : Butea Monosperma

Sr. No. : 12
Nakshatra Name : Uttara Phalguni
Moon Sign : Leo
Lord : Sun
Trees/Plant : Payari
Latin Name : Ficus Arnottiana

The Rashi tree for Leo is Indian Jujube, Indian Plum (Ziziphus Mauritiana/बोर).

Sr. No. : 13
Nakshatra Name : Hasta
Moon Sign : Virgo
Lord : Moon
Trees/Plant : Jaai
Latin Name : Jasminum Grandiflora

Sr. No. : 14
Nakshatra Name : Chitra
Moon Sign : Virgo
Lord : Mars
Trees/Plant : Bael, Golden Apple (बेल)
Latin Name : Aegle Marmalos

The Rashi tree for Virgo is Mango (Mangifera Indica/आंबा)

Sr. No. : 15
Nakshatra Name : Swati
Moon Sign : Libra
Lord : Rahu
Trees/Plant : Arjun (अर्जुन)
Latin Name : Terminalia Arjuna

Sr. No. : 16
Nakshatra Name : Vishakha
Moon Sign : Libra
Lord : Jupiter
Trees/Plant : Nagkesar (नागकेसर) OR Wood Apple (कवठ, कैट)
Latin Name : Mesua Ferrea OR Limonia Acidissima

The Rashi tree for Libra is Indian Medler (Mimusops Elengi/बकुळ)

Sr. No. : 17
Nakshatra Name : Anuradha
Moon Sign : Scorpio
Lord : Saturn
Trees/Plant : Nagkesar (नागकेसर)
Latin Name : Mesua Ferrea

Sr. No. : 18
Nakshatra Name : Jyeshta
Moon Sign : Scorpio
Lord : Mercury
Trees/Plant : Semal, Red Silk-Cotton Tree (सावरी)
Latin Name : Bombax Ceiba

The Rashi tree for Scorpio is Indian Catechu (Acacia Catechu/खैर)

Sr. No. : 19
Nakshatra Name : Mool
Moon Sign : Sagittarius
Lord : Ketu
Trees/Plant : Salai
Latin Name : Boswellia Serrata


Sr. No. : 20
Nakshatra Name : Poorvashadha
Moon Sign : Sagittarius
Lord : Venus
Trees/Plant : Rattan Cane
Latin Name : Calamus Pseudotenuis (वेत)
It is a strong climber which has clustered stems. It usually need a support to climb.

Sr. No. : 21
Nakshatra Name : Uttarashadha
Moon Sign : Sagittarius
Lord : Sun
Trees/Plant : Jackfruit (फणस)

The Rashi tree for Sagittarius is Peepal (Ficus Religiosa/पिंपळ)

Sr. No. : 22
Nakshatra Name : Shravan
Moon Sign : Capricorn
Lord : Moon
Trees/Plant : Crown Flower (रुई)
Latin Name : Calotropis Gigantea



Sr. No. : 23
Nakshatra Name : Dhanishtha
Moon Sign : Capricorn
Lord : Mars
Trees/Plant : Indian Mesquite, Khejri tree (शमी)
Latin Name : Prosopis Cineraria

The Rashi tree for Capricorn is Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia Sissoo/शिसम).

Sr. No. : 24
Nakshatra Name : Shatatarka
Moon Sign : Aquarius
Lord : Rahu
Trees/Plant : Kadam, Common Bur Flower (कदंब)
Latin Name : Anthocephalus Cadamba

Sr. No. : 25
Nakshatra Name : Poorvabhadrapada
Moon Sign : Aquarius
Lord : Jupiter
Trees/Plant : Mango (आंबा)
Latin Name : Mangifera Indica

The Rashi tree for Aquarius is Indian Mesquite (Prosopis Cineraria/शमी)

Sr. No. : 26
Nakshatra Name : Uttarabhadrapada
Moon Sign : Pisces
Lord : Saturn
Trees/Plant : Neem (कडुनिंब)
Latin Name : Azadirachta Indica



Sr. No. : 27
Nakshatra Name : Revati
Moon Sign : Pisces
Lord : Mercury
Trees/Plant : Mahua, Mohwa (मोह, मोहवा)
Latin Name : Madhuca Latifolia

The Rashi tree for Pisces is Banyan tree (Ficus Benghalensis/वड)

It is believed that the tree of Nakshatra in which the person is born gives strength to him. I don't say that it should be believed, or for that matter astrology as such, but Nakshatra Vana (forest) is an attractive idea and a way to encourage growing trees.

May we all believe in astrology or not, we will definitely agree to one simple thing that this concept of plant adoption was one of the very smartly planned conservation strategy by our ancestors. Today looking at our 'selfish' and 'just consume' attitude towards the whole-n-sole of our life - Mother Nature, we find it really necessary to rejuvenate and spread this concept of adopting at least one plant per person..!