Invasive species and soil degradation hit Delhi’s dhau tree population

At the BNHS-run Aravalli Forest Nursery and the Delhi Forest Department’s Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, dhau is one of the focus species with saplings being grown.

The dhau tree (Anogeissus pendula) is now seen only in patches of Delhi, including the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. (File/IE)
The dhau tree (Anogeissus pendula) is now seen only in patches of Delhi, including the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. (File/IE)

The dhau tree, once ubiquitous to Delhi, is dying a slow death as invasive species and lower soil productivity take their toll. The deciduous species is mostly found in the Aravalli hills and, by extension, was widespread in Delhi’s Ridge area.

The dhau tree (Anogeissus pendula) is now seen only in patches of Delhi, including the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.

Yamuna Biodiversity Park Scientist-in-Charge Faiyaz Khudsar told The Indian Express that the species had started disappearing from Delhi. With the vilayati kikar (Prosopis juliflora), an invasive plant that suppresses other plants’ growth, that came from Mexico, and years of degradation of soil productivity and vegetation have spelled the end of the dhau trees.

Khudsar added there were still some patches near Dhaula Kuan. But this patch is surrounded by the vilayati kikar.

The tree doesn’t require too much water and the small leaves make for cattle fodder. The bark is used to manufacture cots and farm equipment.

Sohail Madan, who leads the Conservation Education Centre of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, told The Indian Express that the sanctuary had tracts of dhau trees. Some of the best dhau patches in the northern Aravallis are at Asola, he said.

Madan added invasive species such as the vilayati kikar had taken over a lot of area. However, the special thing about dhau is it can grow on steep, rocky hills where nothing else can grow. Dhau is losing space on flat ground, but in rocky habitats such as patches of Asola, the dhau tree dominates. Parts of Greater Kailash would have, at some point, been a good habitat for the dhau tree. However, Madan said buildings had taken over.

Pradip Krishen, in his book Trees of Delhi, wrote that the dhau tree could be found only in localised patches of the Ridge at present. However, parts of the Ridge had once been forested with the tree, which thrives on hot, dry slopes, and rocky soil.

Khudsar, of Yamuna Biodiversity Park, said even little rain could make the tree happy. He added that in the Chambal region, the growth was so dense that they made movement difficult.

He added that efforts were being made to bring the trees back to Delhi. Khudsar said they had restored patches of the trees in the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, where there were mining pits.

At the BNHS-run Aravalli Forest Nursery and the Delhi Forest Department’s Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, dhau is one of the focus species with saplings being grown.

Madan said around 15,000 dhau trees were grown during the monsoon season. The tree was difficult to grow since it doesn’t grow everywhere, he added.

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