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!