Trees in Indian Cities, written by Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli, the book reveals myriad facts about the trees we’ve grown up watching and also gives us a painful reminder of their importance, given the tree-starved state of our urban landscape.
A trip down memory lane comes in the form of Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities, written by Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli, the book reveals myriad facts about the trees we’ve grown up watching and also gives us a painful reminder of their importance, given the tree-starved state of our urban landscape. A life devoid of trees is unimaginable, as the green glorious beings hold different connotations for different people. Plenty of them see trees as a sign of growth, how their lives unfold in proportion to a tree’s growth. Others hold them as bearers of life in itself, a symbol of positivity, magnificent beings that provide ample green to fight life’s blues. Here, we look at some of the trees that stand tall in their glory around us, while holding within themselves great stories of birth and regeneration.
The Foreign Indica
Tamarind, an integral part of both Indian culture and food is in fact a foreigner . The leguminous tree’s scientific name is Tamarindus indica which leads many to believe that it originated in the Indian subcontinent. However, the tree actually came from far-off central Africa where it was termed the ‘tree of life’. The tamarind tree, an unlikely hero as it is called, has survived the tests of time and nature’s wrath. While multiple legends present themselves in the quest to trace the tree’s roots, its usefulness in everyday life across the globe remains undisputed. Besides its use in Indian cooking, the ripe pulp of tamarind is sweetened with sugar and made into a popular local drink called tamarindo in Latin America. Even the British use the pulp to make their famous Worcestershire sauce.
The Magical Tree
The tree that undergoes an almost unbelievable transformation in the pre-monsoon season from its winter look is the scarlet red silk cotton tree. Devoid of any leaves in the winter months of January, February and March, the tree’s glory is redeemed by the striking large red flowers that cover its entire canopy in the pre-monsoon season.It is a native of the forests in temperate and tropical Asia. The flowers are widely used during preparation of Holi colours and in the formation of spices. The scarlet silk cotton tree has a majestic height and laden with flowers, it can be quite a task for it to keep standing. The tree in such a scenario develop buttresses at the base to keep it from falling during the monsoon storms. All parts of red silk cotton tree have medicinal properties. It’s flowers, bark, fruit, gum, leaf, root and even the spiny prickles on trunk are used to prepare herbal and ayurvedic medicines.
The Majestic Banyan
With its thick aerial roots that grow from branches so long to eventually penetrate the ground, the banyan, India’s national tree, is a sight to withhold. Belonging to the family of ficus trees, commonly called figs, the banyan trees’ fruits contain a large number of tiny flowers that facilitate pollination of the trees, done entirely by wasps. Even though the banyan is one of the largest trees in the world, it can grow as an epiphyte, that is a plant which grows on another plant. After birds consume figs produced by the banyan trees, their excreta helps drop the seeds into the crevice of another trees, which then begin the process of growth.It’s not just in India that the banyan tree is revered. The Indonesian flag bears a motif of the banyan tree whose branching roots are believed to represent the many islands constituting the country.
The spectacular golden blossoms in the aftermath of spring, in the months of April, May and June, make the amaltas tree famous. It is a deciduous medium-sized tree native to India with an irregular-shaped canopy. The tree is a predominant part of the Indian culture, from north to south. It is an integral indicator of the forest landscape of Sangam literature, which is associated with the romantic imagery of separation and longing.The bewitching flowers are exported to different parts of the world, from South Africa to West Indies, and from China to Brazil. The flowers are edible in nature too, and can be made into pakoras or sautéed, or ground with coconut and roasted Bengal gram into a chutney. Even though the amaltas is easy to spot in the dry forests of India, its reproduction in the wild remained one of the greatest mysteries for the longest time.
The Neighbourhood Tree
A familiar sight in many backyards, the drumstick is a powerhouse of nutrients — vitamins, minerals and amino acids. For this very reason the humble tree is a super food globally and its extracts-based cosmetics and skin/haircare products sell like hot cakes in the market. Every part of the tree is useful. It’s roots, in fact, made the lives of British cooks back in time easier. When they struggled to replicate the taste of their sauces in India, they dried the roots of drumstick and mixed them with vinegar to be used as garnish. A study conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad found that drumstick has seven times more vitamin C than oranges, 15 times more potassium than bananas, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots and 25 times more iron than spinach. It also has 17 times more calcium than milk and nine times more protein than curd.