27 Sep

Azadirachta Indica, the Neem Tree

This post relates to the Native Trees of Pakistan series. In this post, I am featuring Azadirachta indica.

Azadirachta indica, locally known as Neem tree, is one of the iconic trees of tropical and semi-tropical regions of South Asia. This fast-growing and evergreen tree can be seen widely in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia growing in gardens, forests, lawns, backyards and along streets. The earliest history of Azadirachta indica can be traced back to Sanskrit writings that are over 4,000 years old.

neem trees and flowers

Benefits of Neem

Long before, its chemical and medical value was proven scientifically, Neem has been a major ingredient of a number of traditional remedies and herbal medicines. It is a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides. It controls more than 195 insects and even impacts pests that are resistant to synthetic pesticides. Being an excellent environment-friendly insect killer, Neem tree is now commercially grown in many countries.

Twig of Neem is used as a tooth brush in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The oil extracted from the seeds and kernel of the Neem tree is used in the manufacturing of cosmetics such as soaps, shampoos, balms, and creams. Neem is used in treatment of many skin diseases and infections including acne and chicken pox.

Neem tree has tremendous capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and purify the air, making it a perfect tree for lawns and backyards. Neem tree can adjust to climatic changes easily, for this reason, it is also used in reforestation projects where it grows quickly and lasts long.

Other medicinal uses of Neem tree include treatment of allergic reactions, blood sugar in diabetic patients, herpes, heart diseases, hepatitis, fungal infection, malaria, psoriasis, and ulcer. Extracts of Neem tree are also scientifically proven to enhance the immune system.

The timber of Neem tree is a substitute for true mahogany, because it is heavy and similarly red in color. The timber is used in used in the making of carts, agricultural tools, bridges and boats.

Growing Habits of Neem Tree

Neem tree grows in full to partial sun and prefers a well-drained soil mix. The tree can be propagated from seeds, cuttings or suckers. Young plants should be watered well during summer allowing the soil to dry between watering. Restrict watering during winter. Neem tree makes a tall and well branched tree. It can also be pruned to make a symmetrical shape. The tree can grow as tall as 50 – 60 feet and as wide as 4 feet.

Neem tree produces abundance of foliage and clusters of white, fragrant flowers. Flowering is followed by olive-like fruits. Because of resembling leaves, fruits and branching habit, sometimes, Melia Azedarach or Chinaberry is mistakenly identified as Neem tree. They both belong to the Meliaceae family but Melia Azedarach  cannot substitute Neem tree. Unlike the fruits of Neem tree, drupes that grow on Melia Azedarach are poisonous.

22 Sep

Melia Azedarach, the Persian Lilac

This is my tenth post in the Native Trees of Pakistan series. Today, I am featuring Melia Azedarach.

Melia Azedarach is a fast-growing but short-lived tree. Also known as Chinaberry, Persian Lilac, White Cedar, Ceylon Cedar and Bead Tree, Melia Azedarach belongs to Meliaceae family and grows widely in Pakistan, India, southern China, and Australia. Local names are Bakain and Dharek or Dhraik.

flowers and leaves of melia azedarach

Photo by: scnps.org

Melia Azedarach is a medium-sized tree that produces dense, shady and well rounded canopy. In landscapes, Melia Azedarach is usually pruned to form an umbrella shape. The tree can be cut back to its trunk or to main branches near the trunk form where its produces thick cluster of branches. A mature tree can usually gain a height of 12 meters in height in a few years; the tree does not last long and starts dying at the age of 20 years.

Melia Azedarach is a tough survivor and is usually grown in gardens or as a street tree where it provides cool shade on hot summer days. The tree produces bright and lush green foliage in spring followed by beautiful clusters of tiny, pale-purple or lilac blooms that draw attention to their presence by their delightful fragrance. The cherry-like green fruits grown abundantly and hang until they wrinkle and turn yellow. Melia Azedarach sheds all of its leaves in winter revealing fruit bunches. The fruit is poisonous for humans, if taken in large quantity. Intake of Melia Azedarach fruits results in loss of appetite, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, bloody faeces, stomach pain, pulmonary congestion, cardiac arrest, rigidity, lack of coordination and general weakness and death that can take place after about 24 hours of intake.

fruits of melia-azedarach

Melia Azedarach closely resembles the Azadirachta Indica orNeem tree. Like other members the Meliaceae family, Melia Azedarach, produces good quality timber. It can be easily seasoned and used to make furniture. It is naturally resistant to pests and fungal infection. Extract from the bark and fruit has pharmacological properties and is used to kill parasitic roundworms.

14 Sep

The Banyan Tree

This is my ninth post in the Native Trees of Pakistan series. Today, I am featuring the Banyan tree because I believe the series would remain incomplete without the mention of the Banyan tree (Ficus Benghalensis).

banyan tree

Banyan, locally knows as Borh, is an important part of the landscape, fiction and life of the Indian sub-continent. It is an important part of rural life; huge Banyan trees spread their wide canopy of wide green leaves over large areas and witness many activities of rural life. A Banyan tree provides a shady playground for kids, a community center for villagers, a sitting and resting place for travellers. It is believed that the name of Banyan tree is derived from the word ‘banya’, which means ‘trader’. In old days, Hindu traders of the Indian sub-continent dominated most of the trade in the region. They used to travel for business purposes and often took rest and do business under this tree. Later, English writers started mentioning Banyan tree as the tree under which Hindu merchants would conduct their business.

Banyan usually grows as an epiphytic plant – seeds are dropped by birds on a tree or a crack in a building where it starts germinating. Young saplings develop string roots that continue to grow and then strangle the host. Banyan produces a lot of strong and wide branches that spread far from the trunk and cover a considerably large area. As the tree grows, the trunk gains tremendous width and height. Branches produce aerial roots that reach ground, establish themselves in the ground and ultimately unite with the main trunk. Because of its structure, Banyan makes an excellent bonsai.

bonsai form of bonsai tree

The leaves are large, leathery, glossy green and elliptical in shape. Like most of the fig-trees, leaf bud is covered by two large scales. As the leaf develops the scales fall. Young leaves have an attractive reddish tinge. Apparently, Banyan tree produces fruit but does not blossom but that is not true. The flowers are concealed in the fleshy receptacle commonly known as ‘fig’. These figs are grow in pairs in the leaf axils and numerous, tiny blossoms of both sexes and also a host of small insects. These are the ‘fig insects’ that fertilize flowers. The insect enters the fig through a hole in the top and lays eggs which hatch out and mature. When these insects leave their home, they are dusted with pollen from the male flowers. Now they make their way into another fig, thus ensuring fertilization. The figs ripen between February and May and attract bird and bats. Bird and bats eat these figs and spread Banyan seeds through their droppings.

fruits and leaves of banyan tree

Banyan fruits, leaves, roots and its milky sap are used in many herbal medicines. Medicinal uses of Banyan include cure of biliousness, ulcers, erysipelas, vomiting, vaginal complains, fever, inflammations, leprosy, piles, nose-diseases, gonorrhoea, syphilis, dysentery, inflammation of liver etc.

aerial roots of banyan tree

There are a number of huge Banyan trees in Lahore, the city where I live. There are four Banyan trees in the Jinnah Garden. Average height of each of these Banyan trees is approximately 90 feet. One of them covers an area of more than 100 square feet. Other famous Banyans of Lahore are located in Nasir Bagh, Old Anarkali, Minar-e-Pakistan, Borh wala Chowk at Allama Iqbal Road, near Naulakha Church, Girja Chowk, and at G.T. Road near Lahore Fort.

Banyan is also an important figure in various cultures, religious mythologies, folklore and literature. In Hinduism, the leaf of Banyan tree is said to be the resting place for the God Krishna, who, after consuming all the universe during the time of destruction, absorbs everything created and turns himself to a child as small as he could fit into the tiny leaf of the Banyan tree and keeps floating in the void space, until he himself decides to recreate everything back out from him – this is equivalent to the pulsating theory and black hole theory that universe expands and contracts constantly.

Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Banyan tree. Robinson Crusoe, the famous character of Daniel Defoe, makes his home in a Banyan tree. The Banyan also appears on the coat of arms of Indonesia. It is meant to symbolize the unity of Indonesia – one country with many far-flung roots.

Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, talks to a Banyan tree thus:

“O you shaggy-headed Banyan tree standing on the bank of the pond,

And to float like those ducks among the weeds and shadows.”

Have you forgotten the little child,

Like the birds that have nested in your branches and left you?

Do you not remember how he sat at the window

And wondered at the tangle of your roots that plunged underground?

The women would come to fill their jars in the pond,

And your huge black shadow would wriggle

On the water like sleep struggling to wake up.

Sunlight danced on the ripple like

Restless tiny shuttles weaving golden tapestry.

Two ducks swam by the woody margin above their shadows,

And the child would sit still and think.

He longed to be the wind and blow through your rustling branches,

To be your shadow and legthen with the day on the water,

To be a bird and perch on your topmost twig,

09 Sep

Michelia – The Champa Tree

This post is eighth in the Native Trees of Pakistan series. In this post, I am featuring a lovely flowering tree, Michelia.

Michelia is one of the most popular flowering trees. It belongs to the Magnoliaceae family, the family of sub-tropical bushes and small trees; It is also one of the ancient families of the plant kingdom having existed since 95 million years. Today more than 40 species of Michelia are distributed in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Pakistan, China, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.

The most popular species are Michelia champaca (Buy Michelia champaca online) and Michelia alba. Michelia Champaca, also known as Champa, Yellow Champa, Golden Campa or Fragrant Champa is highly revered by the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism. They use Michelia flowers during religious ceremonies. Tibetans believe that the Buddha of the next era will find enlightenment under the white flower canopy of the champaca tree.

orange flower of michelia champaca

Michelia has several ornamental, commercial and medicinal uses too. For gardeners, it is an excellent choice as a houseplant or as companion plant in landscapes.  Commercially, the timber of Michelia is used for almost anything from cabinet-making to firewood and flowers are grown to sell at cut flower shops. The extract from the flowers of Michelia Alba is used in preparation of the famous ‘Joy’ perfume. Medicinally, the tree has wide applications; the bark is used to prepare tonic, the oil extracted from flowers is used to cure toughs and rheumatism, and for relieving eye troubles and gout.

Michelias are easy to grow and maintain. They love a lot of light and warmth but filtered sunlight. The best location for Michelia is the place where it receives direct and ample sunlight in early morning but partial light for the rest of the day. Suitable for containers, Michelias has shallow and brittle root system. It likes moderate watering in acidic and well-drained soil. As a general rule, water lavishly when the plant is young to allow it to develop good root system. Water mature trees moderately and feed with a general purpose fertilizer during spring. Prune in winter when plant goes dormant.

Michelia can gain a height of 30 meters in suitable conditions. The tree bears large leaves that resemble the leaves of Mango tree. The tree booms from May to October and produces abundance of star-shaped flowers that fill the entire surrounding with mesmerizing scent. Flowers are usually golden-yellow, golden-orange and creamy-white. Michelia can be grown from seeds; however, some species grow well when grafted. Flowering is followed by fruition. The tree develops abundant of flowers. In fact, it consumes most of its energy in producing seeds and requires a few years of rest for the next flowering, that is why, commercial growers remove most of the fruits before they start hatching seeds.

The tree was named by a Florentine botanist, P. A. Micheli.

06 Sep

Saraca Indica, The Ashoka Tree

Saraca Indica commonly known as Ashoka tree or Sorrowless Tree is one of the most exotic flowering trees of the Indian subcontinent. It grows natively in warm humid climates of Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Malaysia and belongs to the Fabaceae family.

saraca indica, ashoka tree flowers

Ashoka is ever-green, slender but slow-growing flowering tree. It is easy-to-grow, easy-to-prune tree that flowers abundantly and produces a compact shaped canopy – an ideal candidate as a houseplant or a lawn tree.

Ashoka tree produces large bunch of sweet smelling flowers throughout the year; profuse flowering occurs from February to May. The flowers look like the flowers of Ixora. Each bunch consists of a lot of small flowers that are shaped like long-tubes which open out into four oval lobes. The flowers display a lot of different colors. Young flowers are yellow that later acquire hues of orange and then ultimately become crimson with the passage of time. The colorful stamens of Ashoka flowers form a ring of white and crimson shades and give a hairy appearance to the flowers.

The colorful flowers of Ashoka are accompanied by soft, deep-green, and shiny leaves. The young wavy leaves are softer and red in color and closely resemble the leaves of Polyalthia Longifolia or The Mast Tree.

The Ashoka tree has many folklores associated with it and is considered sacred throughout the Indian subcontinent, especially in India and Sri Lanka. It is believed that Queen Maya gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of the Buddhist religion and doctrine of Nirvana, under an Ashoka tree. Buddhists hold this tree in high esteem. Hindus also revere Ashoka tree and dedicate it to Kama Deva, the god of love.

Ashoka tree has many medicinal uses. The bark is used in traditional medicines to cure a number of gynecological problems. The pulp of flowers is used as a remedy for dysentery.

Ashoka tree can be grown easily in warm and humid climates. It prefers a well-drained and organic soil.