30 Aug

Orchid Tree: Kachnar

This is sixth post in the Native Trees of Pakistan series. Today, I am featuring one of my favorite trees, the Bauhinia tree.

flowers of orchid tree

Bauhinia tree also known as Mountain Ebony, Purple Orchid tree or simply Orchid tree is an excellent specimen tree that you can grow in your landscapes, lawn or backyards. It is a hardy and fast growing tree and produces spectacular flowers of magenta, mauve, pink or white hues with crimson marking during the flowering season that usually occurs in winter. When the orchid tree is in bloom, it spreads a delicate fragrance all around.

An orchid tree in full bloom with its sweet scent on a winter evening is simply a lovely retreat.

flower of bauhinia

Orchid tree has many species; the most common are Bauhinia Variegata, Bauhinia Purpurea, Bauhinia Tomentosa, Bauhinia Racemosa, Bauhinia Monandra and Bauhinia Acuminaia. All of these species bear colorful flowers ranging from purple, mauve, white or pink. The leaves form the shape of twin-kidney. Orchid tree usually sheds its leaves in winter though some species do not. During this period, the branches are covered with buds and sweetly-scented flowers.

Flowering is followed by the formation of seed pods that ripe in summer and then burst to spread seeds. The seeds are poisonous. The most popular species of Orchid tree in Pakistan is Bauhinia variegate where it is known as Kachnar tree and grown for its buds that are pickled or used as vegetable. The timber is used as firewood or for making fences. The bark is used to cure diarrhea.

Orchid tree can be grown easily from seeds or cuttings. The plant grows well in acidic soil and does not tolerate salty conditions. It loves full sun but can be grown under partial sun. Orchid tree prefers generously watering in summer and moderate moisture in winter.

Orchid tree belongs to the Fabaceae family was named Bauhinia after 16th Century herbalists Jan and Caspar Bauhin who were twin-brothers.

25 Aug

Polyalthia Longifolia, the Mast Tree

This post is fifth in the Native Trees of Pakistan series. Today, I am featuring Polyalthia Longifolia.

Polyalthia Longifolia var. pendula or The Mast Tree is one of the prime choices of landscape designers. This evergreen, tall and slender tree grows symmetrically and produces fresh and shining green foliage. A Polyalthia Longifolia tree grows as tall as 12 meter. The entire length of the plant is covered by long and wavy leaves. The beautiful contrast of new golden and coppery brown leaves against old dark-green leaves make a spectacular show.

polyalthia longifolia trees

Polyalthia Longifolia flowers during spring for a brief period (approximately two to three weeks). During this period, the entire tree is covered with small star-shaped flowers of pale green color. The flowers grow in clusters and attract birds and butterflies.

polyalthia longifolia flowers

Flowering is followed by egg-shaped fruits that are visited by bats and flying foxes.

polyalthia longifolia fruits

Polyalthia Longifolia can be easily trimmed in to a straight columnar growth covered with a lot of leaves. For this reason, it is suitable for landscapes, as a hedge tree, and as visual dividers or wind blockers in open spaces.

The trunk of Polyalthia Longifolia has grey bark. Both the trunk and the bark are used in manufacturing of fiber. Timber is used for making boxes, pencils and long masts – that is why it is also known as the mast tree. In India and Sri Lanka, where the mast tree is held in high esteem, its leaves are used in religious ceremonies and for decorating arches and doorways.

Sometimes, Polyalthia Longifolia, is incorrectly identified as Ashoka tree (Saraca Indica) because of closely resembling leaves of both species. Other names of the mast tree are Asupala or the Buddha tree.

polyalthia longifolia leaves

Polyalthia Longifolia can be grown easily from seed or cuttings. It is a fast growing tree and requires good exposure to sunlight and moderate watering.

Polyalthia Longifolio or the Mast Tree belongs to the Annonaceae family, which is one of the largest families of flowering plants and usually known as the custard apple family.

23 Aug

Bombax, Red Silk Cotton Tree

This is the fourth post in the Native Trees of Pakistan series.

In this post, I am featuring one of my favourite trees, Bombax – also known as Cotton Tree or sometimes as Red Silk Cotton tree. The name, Bombax, is derived from the Greek word Bombax which means ‘a silk-worm’. The most popular species is Bombax Ceiba, which is natively found in southern and eastern Asia and northern Australia.

bombax ceiba flowers

Photo © J.M. Garg

Bombax is a fast growing tree and can reach the height of 30 to 40 meters and up to 3 meters trunk diameter. A mature Bombax tree stands as a straight and tall sculptor symmetrically branched at uniform gaps. The trunk has short bristles that protect the young plant from animals.

Bombax tree bears large red, orange or yellow flowers during spring. A young Bombax flowers abundantly and spread its vibrant colors all around standing out in the landscape. Flowering is followed by fruition. The fruit is usually the size of a small ball and is filled with cotton like fibrous stuff. The ‘cotton’ is plucked and used for filling pillows, cushions and quilts. The timber is soft and can be used in manufacturing of plywood, match boxes and sticks, and moulds. The brown gum extracted from Bombax tree is usually used in cosmetics, foods, medicine and for several industrial purposes. The gum is locally known as ‘katira’.

Locally, Bombax is known as Seemal, Simal or Semul. The genus belongs to Malvaceae family and grows naturally in a tropical belt of the south Asia starting from Mayanmar and extending to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bombax grows well in plains and does not require much water or fertilizer. Because of its size and a lot of flowers falling and covering the ground, Bombax is not recommended as a house plant. It is, however, an excellent choice for lining roads, lands and agricultural fields.

The bark, roots and gum extracted from Bambox are used to prepare herbal medicine for curing diarrhea, dysentery, hemoptysis, pulmonary tuberculosis, influenza, menorrhagia, styptic and wounds.

Bombax is mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib, holy Sikh scriptures, as:

simul tree in granth sahib

The semal tree is tall and stiff as an arrow;

But birds that visit it hopefully, depart disappointed.

For its fruits are tasteless and flowers nauseating,

Only humility and sweetness, O Nanak, bear virtue and goodness.

20 Aug

Moringa Oleifera, the Miracle Tree

This post is third in the Native Trees of Pakistan series.

The Indian sub-continent is home of amazing flora and fauna. The flowers, fruits, shrubs, herbs and trees of this region are well known for their spectacular beauty, mesmerizing fragrance, exotic colors and wonderful uses. In this post, I am writing about Moringa Oleifera, which is widely accepted as The Miracle Tree.

Moringa Oleifera tree can be used as a water purifier, for curing a number of diseases, in exotic recipes, and as an excellent source of nutrition. In fact, it is now promoted as prime source of nutrition in a number of countries to combat malnutrition. According to a research by Optima of Africa, 25 grams of Moringa leaf powder contains 24% Protein, 125% Calcium, 61% Magnesium, 41% Potassium, 71% Iron, 272% Vitamin A, and 22% Vitamin C – No wonder it is called Miracle Tree.

moringa-oleifera-leaves

Photo © Forest & Kim Starr

Moringa Oleifera has many names – it is called clarifier tree, horseradish tree and drumstick tree (because of its drumstick shaped seed pods). Locally it is known as Sonjna or Sohanjna.

moringa oleifera seed pods

Photo © healthfulhealthtips.com

Propagation of Moringa Oleifera as House Plant

Moringa Oleifera is a fast growing tree; it can reach the height of 3 meters in just 10 months after the seed is planted. Because of its deep roots, it does not require much water. Thus, it can grow in dry regions and survive long droughts. However, it bears prolific flowers and seed pods when it is watered sufficiently. In certain regions where Moringa trees receive continuous rainfall, they can produce flowers abundantly throughout the year.

Moringa Oleifera can be propagated by planting limb cuttings 1–2 m long, during hot and humid periods. The plant starts bearing pods 6–8 months after planting but regular bearing starts after the second year. The peak time for flowering is usually between March and April and again in September and October.

moringa oleifera flowers

Photo © Mahdi Karim

Moringa Oleifera trees do not need much fertilizer. For commercial production, manure or compost can be mixed with the soil for better yield. Additionally, phosphorus can be added to encourage the growth of roots and nitrogen can be used to encourage leaf growth. Moringa Oleifera has a short life span – approximately 20 years.

Uses of Moringa Oleifera

Moringa Oleifera has a number of medical and culinary uses. The leaves are believed to stabilize blood pressure and control glucose level. They are also used in the treatment of anxiety, diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, skin infections, scurvy, intestinal parasites, and many other conditions – miracle tree, indeed.

moringa oleifera seeds

Photo © Forest & Kim Starr

Besides medicinal uses, seed pods are extremely nutritious, containing essential amino acids and vitamins. Moringa Oleifera leaves are also known for their culinary use – they are used in salads, in vegetable curries, as pickles and for seasoning. The Ben Oil which is extracted from seeds in used for lubricating watches and other delicate machinery as well as in the manufacturing of perfumes and hairdressings. The bark and wood are used for dying and tanning. The tree itself can be used as a fence.

Moringa Oleifera tree is a native tree of Pakistan, India, Arabia and the East Indies. It is also cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines.

09 Aug

Amaltas, The Golden Shower Tree

This post is second in the Native Trees of Pakistan series.

Cassia Fistula (Buy seeds online) or Amaltas is one of the loveliest flowering trees of our region. Also known as the Indian Laburnum, Amaltas is closely related to the English Laburnum but the flowers of Amaltas are brighter, denser and more beautiful than those of its English cousin.

lovely yellow flowers of amaltas

Photo by: homestretching.blogspot.com

The tree drops most of its leaves in winter and starts producing shining green leaves in early summer. The feathery leaves of Cassia Fistula are usually large and wide. Soon the plant starts blooming that can last till the end of summer season.  During the flowering season, the whole tree is covered with large clusters of uncountable delicate yellow flowers. The profuse and bright flowers of Amaltas shine bright under the hot sun of summer and make a spectacular show. Delicate flowers drop to cover the ground turning it in to a yellow carpet, that is why, Cassia Fistula is also called The Golden Shower tree.

Amaltas, Cassia Fistula or the Indian Laburnum can be grown easily from seeds. This sun loving plant can reach the size of 10 to 20 meters and grows well in full sun and well-drained soil. Because of its size, it is not suitable for small lawns but makes an excellent show when planted along the roads. The Laburnum Road in Mumbai has been exclusively lined with Amaltas trees.

06 Aug

Delonix Regia, Gul Mohr Tree

This post is the first in the series of Native Trees of Pakistan. In this post, I am writing about Delonix regia also known as Gul Mohr tree. (Buy seeds online).

delonix regia as lawn tree

Gul Mohr tree/ Delonoix regia, Photo © Yair Karelic

Delonix regia belongs to the Fabaceae family and is known for its showy flowers. In fact, it is one of the most striking ornamental trees. Locally Delonix Regia is known as Gulmohar or Gul Mohr tree – ‘Gul’ means flower and ‘Mohr’ is ‘peacock’ – the name suggests spectacular show of colorful flowers just like flamboyant colors of a peacock. The tree justified its name. Gul Mohr tree displays beautiful splashes of crimson, orange, red and yellow flowers throughout the flowering season. When in full bloom, the entire tree is later covered with a canopy of fern-like feathery leaves. French mention Delonix Regia as feur de Paradis and Flamboyant.

delonix regia red flower

Flowers on a Gul Mohr tree, Photo © Saad Akhtar

Gul Mohr makes an excellent ornamental lawn tree because of its spectacular flowers and shady leaves. Usually Gul Mohr tree does not attain much height and grow to an average height of 12 meters but spreads widely – that is it makes a good shady tree. The seed pods are dark brown and are usually up to 60 cm long and 5 cm wide.

seed pods of delonix regia

Delonix regia, Photo © Yair Karelic

How to Grow Delonix regia / Gul Mohr tree

Delonix Regia or Gul Mohr tree grows well in tropical or sub-tropical climate but can withstand drought and salty conditions too. Delonix regia is an evergreen tree except in areas of long drought or extremely dry season.

leaves of delonix regia

Gul Mohr tree, Photo © Yair Karelic

Delonix regia or Gul Mohr tree originally belongs to Madagascar from where it was taken to Mauritius and then to England from where its spread to most of the tropical countries.

06 Aug

Native Trees of Pakistan

This is sequel to my invitation to join the Billion Tree Campaign initiated by United Nations Environment Program. The purpose of this campaign is to invite communities, businesses, activists and people to plant and grow native trees and preserve biodiversity.

Native Trees of Pakistan

Image by Zillay Ali via flickr

Native trees are species that have colonized the landscape of a region  by natural processes and by going through a number of climatic changes that occurred over many thousand years. These native trees have adapted themselves to the local conditions and have become part of the ecosystem of the region. Unfortunately, most of the native trees are victims of deforestation and have been reduced to the verge of extinction. In order to make up the deficiency, we have been planting new trees but most of these trees do not belong to the ecosystem. They are invading trees that would gradually take place of most native trees and ultimately impact the whole ecosystem disturbing the wild life, insects, birds, crops and the soil.

The Billion Tree Campaign specifically targets at creating awareness of the importance of native trees and encourage people all over the world to protect and grow native trees in their localities.  In the coming weeks, I would feature popular native trees of Pakistan. Since these are native trees, you can can grow them easily almost everywhere in the country. The first tree in this series is Delonix Regia also known as Gul Mohr. Return to my blog soon for an interesting post on Gul Mohr.

Popular Native Trees of Pakistan

02 Aug

Plant a Tree, Today!

Besides an avid gardener, I am a social activist too. I volunteer for a non-government-organization, EcoWatch, working for the protection and preservation of natural environment. We are a small group of lawyers, engineers, students and other professionals. Our slogan is: Save Nature, Save Future.

Since 2009, we have been involved in The Billion Tree Campaign by United Nations Environment Program. The objective of this campaign is to encourage the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are suitable to local conditions. By the end of 2009, a total of 7.4 billion trees had been planted in 170 countries under this initiative. China, being the top contributor, planted 2.8 billion trees followed by India (2.1 billion trees) and Ethiopia (1.4 billion trees).

The Year 2010 has been declared as International Year of Biodiversity. Along with efforts to raise awareness and importance of biodiversity in our ecology, UNEP promises to strengthen its The Billion Tree Campaign further by involving people, communities, businesses, industry, civil society organizations and governments in efforts to increase the number of trees on earth.

Either you are a gardener, a student, an activist or a concerned citizen, take initiative – plant a tree and take care of it. You can enrol yourself in The Billion Tree Campaign and register your tree with UNEP to keep the counter rolling.

By planting trees, you would not only do your duty as an inhabitant of this planet but would also contribute to providing breathable air, drinkable water, fertile soils and a healthy climate to human beings… and of course, a healthy, nice tree in your home, lawn or office is a thing of beauty.