Appreciating and loving trees

How many of us make an attempt to watch and study the trees around us? Trees provide us life in the form of oxygen, provide shade from the scorching sun and most importantly they are nurtures, as they are home to birds, bees, insects, etc.
But, somehow we have always undervalued their importance. For most of us they are just a piece of wood and for many an obstacle while building homes, roads and bridges. Anyways, it’s never too late to learn more about our tall neighbours.
On February 14, Mission Green organised a Tree Appreciation Walk with expert Usha Desai and a motley group of people at Jogger’s Park, Altinho, Panaji. Desai along with her friend began conducting nature trails and walks in Mumbai as a member of the BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society). Around 60 walks have been conducted so far and these are free of cost!

Dr. Usha while speaking about different palms.

Desai at the start of the walk provided a list of 22 species of trees which are found in the garden at Altinho. This walk did not just focus on understanding trees scientifically, but was made very interesting by Desai adding a few stories associated with these trees and relishing on few fruits which are found during this season. Desai also referred to the book ‘Trees of Delhi’ by Pradip Krishen during this walk.

The walk started with talking about the humble coconut tree. Desai spoke about the various kinds of palm trees. She stated that there was a belief that one who owns six palm trees can attain all three basics needs—roti, kapda and makaan (food, clothing and shelter) from it.
Desai elaborated on how to identify trees with the help of leaves. She also showed that leaves which look compound are actually simple and vice versa, like the leaves of the Amla tree. We then moved to a flowering plant called Sita Ashoka. This tree flowers at this time of the year with beautiful bunches of orange coloured flowers. It is the original Ashoka tree and legends say that it was under this tree that Sita sat waiting for Ram at Ashok Vatika in Ravana’s Lanka— thus the name. Also its leaves look simple but they are compound.

Compound leaves of Ashoka trees and its beautiful flowers

We then explored many other trees like Marking Nut tree; bhendi tree which is also known as Indian Tulip tree; star fruit which is locally known as karmala; bakul tree whose branches are good for teeth and gums. Then we encountered the kokum tree which is also quite popular in Goa. It was followed by getting to know more about the White Silk Cotton Tree which is a native of South America.
Then we moved to the miracle tree or the drumstick tree. This tree Desai said is full of goodies right from its roots to flowers. Aritha or soap nut tree was the next on our list. The amazing fact about the soap nut is that it is a substitute for detergent or soap, which is also eco-friendly. Its seeds when rinsed with water produce lather.
The highlight of the walk was discovery of blooming of Shirish tree which has white flowers that resemble the pink flowers of the rain tree. It also looks like the rain tree. These flowers attract many butterflies.

Flowers of Shirish trees which are similar to pink flowers of rain tree

We then relished few bora (wild berries) which are found in abundance at this time of the year. Desai while speaking about its leaves stated that this is a water resilient tree and thus its leaves turn into a whiter shade to reflect heat. Thus, these trees are found in dry climate also.

Reetha or soap nut is the best environment friendly alternative to conventional soaps and detergents.
Star fruit or karmala as they are locally known

We then explored many other trees like Amaltas, tamarind, golden bamboo, Indian coral, and the African tulip tree which is also known as Pichkari locally because the bud of these flowers splash water when squashed. We also learnt about the complex reproduction system of the banyan tree which is carried out with the help of wasps. This tree which is revered in our culture also supports many species of insects, wasps and birds, thus these trees which belong to the ficus family are ecosystems in themselves.

Golden shower tree in full bloom. It is also the state flower of Kerala

Desai informed that there are 800 species of fig trees and thus 800 species of wasps are involved in this process of reproduction. Thus it is necessary that we conserve these trees and also reduce the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides which in turn results in killing of these lesser known species of insects.
Through this walk we all got a slice of our ecosystem and how we all are interconnected. Desai who conducts such walks in the concrete jungle of Mumbai city to create awareness about our trees, concluded by saying, “This tree walk will help you to fall in love with trees. Thus, when you love a tree you will not cut that tree and that’s how we will able to save our trees.”

There are around 800 species of ficus and thus 800 species of wasps

All pics by Arti Das

This article was first published on The Navhind Times BUZZ on March 2, 2017


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