16 Nov

Lovely, Aromatic Plants for your Herb Garden: Camomile

Anthemis is a genus of annuals and perennials forming dense clumps of flowering feathery and aromatic leaves. Usually grown for summer flowering, Anthemis are nice plants for garden beds, borders or empty spaces in gardens and landscapes.

Camomile Flowers

Camomile Flowers, Image by Lynne (flickr)

Popular species include Anthemis Tinctoria which is a busy annual with golden yellow flowers and Anthemis Cupaniana which is a profuse summer bloomer with ‘cushion-forming’ white flowers. It is also known as Camomile and is used in traditional herbal medicine. The plant grows up to 1 meter and forms large clusters. Both flowers and leaves are used in herbal tea for soothing effects. Flowers can also be used in cut flower arrangements.

Most species of Anthemis grow in ordinary but well-drained soil under bright sunlight. These plants propagate from divisions and require moderate watering.

24 Sep

Lovely Shrubs for Your Garden: Euonymus

If you are looking for hardy, versatile and lovely shrubs for your garden, look no further. Try Euonymus; it is a genus of lovely and versatile shrubs and small trees. It comes in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Both evergreen and deciduous species of Euonymus are available for gardens as well as container gardening. From more than 170 species of Euonymus, there are plenty of choices. They can be grown as border plants, hedges, small foliage plants and some as ground covers.

Most species of Euonymus offer glossy evergreen foliage, conspicuous blooms and ornamental fruition. Originally native to south Asia, Australia and Madagascar, Euonymus has been successfully grown in almost all parts of the world as ornamental plants. Some of the species have medicinal benefits whereas some have been used traditionally for making wooden spindles for the textile industry. That is why Euonymus is commonly described as ‘Spindle Tree’.

Euonymus Japonica

From many popular species, Euonymus Japonica is perhaps the most popular and widely grown plant. It is quite hardy and easy to grow. This shrubby plant can be pruned easily for growing as border plant, shrub or topiary shapes. Euonymus Japonica grows as evergreen shrub up to 5 meters and bears glossy green leaves. Flowers are insignificant but fruits (showy pink berries usually produced in autumn) are attractive. There are several variegated species of Euonymus Japonica available at nurseries.

Euonymus Japonica, Evergreen Shrub

Euonymus Japonica, Spindle Tree, Image by John (Puzzler4879@flickr)

How to grow Euonymus Japonica

Euonymus Japonica is capable of growing in many different conditions without much fuss. It can tolerate poor soil and light conditions. The best place for Euonymus Japonica is a well-lit spot where it receives full or filtered sunlight for most time of the day. Water moderately; do not overwater (young plants, however, require moist soil). Propagation is easy from cuttings.

22 Sep

Butea Monosperma: Flame of the Forest

Butea Monosperma or Flame of the Forest is a mid-sized tree from tropical and sub-tropical regions of South East Asia especially Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and farther across Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. Irregular branching habit, racemes of large bright orange-red flowers and pinnate leaves are typical characteristics of this beautiful tree.

Butea Monosperma usually grows as a mid-sized tree (up to 12 meters) and bears soft velvety leaves of bronze green color. Old leaves feel stiff and leathery. The tree sheds most of its leaves in winter to exposes branches. However, spring season brings foliage and abundance of flaming red-orange flowers that stand out in any landscape for their unusual shape and bright colors justifying the name ‘Flame of the Forest’. These bright and unusual flowers attract birds and butterflies that act as pollinating agents.

Butea Monosperma, Flame of the Forest

Butea Monosperma, Flame of the Forest

Butea Monosperma is useful not only for ornamental purposes but also for its timber and medicinal benefits. The wood is soft and durable under water. Flowers are used to extract dyes whereas the gum excreted by stems is used by druggists in herbal medicine for its astringent qualities.

How to grow Butea Monosperma

Butea Monosperma or Flame of the Forest is a good choice for gardens as it does not grow vigorously and makes a mid-sized tree that can be pruned easily to manage space. Flame of the Forest prefers good exposure to sun and moderate watering.

Butea Monosperma is also recognized as Butea Frondosa.

09 Aug

Lovely Colors and Fragrance of Henna: Lawsonia Inermes

Lawsonia Inermes which in widely known as Henna or Mehndi is a tall evergreen shrub from tropical and sub-tropical regions of southern Asia and Africa. This sun loving shrub grows up to 2.5 meters and bears small fragrant flowers of white or pale pink colors almost all through the year. Suitable as hedge plant, Henna plant makes a good evergreen and strong hedges that emit strong fragrance during summer and rainy seasons.

Lawsonia Inermis, Nehndi, Henna Plant

Lawsonia Inermis (Henna, Mehndi) , Image by J. M. Garg

Henna has been an important plant is human civilization. The history of Henna plant can be traced back to ancient civilization of Egypt where Egyptians used Henna powder to dye their skin, hair and nail. In fact, use of Henna was considered a delicacy and a cultural refinement in ancient Egyptian civilization. Later this cultural was adopted by the Arabs and other civilizations in Africa and India.

Today, Henna is the most popular part of women’s cosmetic is Asian cultures especially in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc. where it is used for dying hair and nail and decorating hands and feet with beautiful floral patterns and tattoos on the eve of weddings, parties and other festivals. In fact, it is a ‘must’ in bridal make up and wedding ceremonies in Asian cultures. The immense popularity of Henna as cosmetic product has led to its commercial production at large scale in Pakistan and India where it grows in abundance under minimal care.

Bridal Mehndi Design

Bridal Mehndi, Image by Abdullah Mohiuddin

Henna is used in the form of paste prepared from water and powder of dried Henna leaves. Henna plant is also an important ingredient in preparation of several perfumes. It is also known as a useful medicinal herb for the treatment of leprosy.

How to Grow Henna

Henna can be propagated easily from cuttings and seeds. These shrubby plants require moderate watering and bright sunlight.

28 May

Lovely, Fruity Trees and Shrubs: Syzygium

Syzygium is a large genus of evergreen, ornamental trees and shrubs. Widely grown for their beautiful foliage, fluffy flowers and edible fruits, the genus of Syzygium comprises of some 1100 species. Most species grow natively in tropical regions of Asia, Africa, Australia and the Pacific. Fruits of some species are edible and are used in preparation of salads, jams and jellies. Growing conditions vary among species. Although most species would grow in tropical climate, there are some species of Syzygium that grow in temperate zones.

Syzygium Luehmannii, Leaves and Fruits

Syzygium Luehmannii, Image from SydneyGreenRing blog

How to Grow Syzygium

Syzygium makes robust trees and shrubs that require pruning to make good ornamental plants. They can be propagated from seeds and softwood cuttings. These plants require constantly moist soil and bright sunlight. With suitable climate provided, Syzygium can be grown outdoor as well as indoors. Grown outdoors in gardens, Syzygium attract bees, butterflies and birds. They are good candidate for bonsai experiments.

Popular Species of Syzygium

Syzygium Paniculatum: Commonly known as Bush Cherry, Syzygium Paniculatum makes a nice ornamental tree that bears glossy green leaves and very attractive edible fruits of pink color. Young leaves are red and flowers are very attractive. With regular pruning, Bush Cherry can serve as an excellent hedge and neat specimen plant in lawns with regular pruning.

Syzygium Malaccense: Native to Asia, Syzygium Malaccense is a nice ornamental tree that grows as tall as 5 meters. Commonly known as Malay Apple or Rose Apple, this specimen plant bears large edible fruits that resemble the fruits of pear. It bears very attractive purple-red flowers in spring.

Syzygium Aromaticum: Known as Clove plant, Syzygium Aromaticum is grown commercially for its flower buds that are dried and use for culinary and medicinal purposes. Dried buds are known as Clove. The plant grows natively in Pakistan, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Local name of Clove in Pakistan is Laung where it is used as spice and as cure of dental pain.

05 Oct

Jacaranda Tree

Sequel to the Native Trees of Pakistan series, today I am introducing Jacaranda tree.

If I have to describe the beauty of Jacaranda in one phrase, I would introduce it as: ‘breath-taking’. You only have to see this splendid tree in full bloom to truly appreciate its beauty – slender trunk, delicate leaves, and rich lilac blossoms make it an object of beauty.  Originally belonging to Brazil, Jacaranda and its fifty species are widely distributed across the South America, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. Because of its outstanding beauty it has been introduced into many tropical and sub-tropical countries like Pakistan.

jacaranda tree

Photo © Forest & Kim Starr

Habits of Jacaranda Tree

Jacaranda is a handsome tree of medium height, approximately 5 to 18 meters at the most. The leaves are finely cut into tiny segments giving in the appearance of a fern, that is why, it is also called the Fern Tree. The bark of Jacaranda tree is thin and grey-brown in colour, smooth when the tree is young but develops fine scales as the tree grows. Branches of Jacaranda tree are slender and slightly wavy. They can be pruned easily to make a shady canopy. Young Jacaranda plants should be pruned to form one central trunk for strength and stability.

Tips for Growing Jacaranda Tree

Jacaranda grows in well drained soil and tolerates drought. It can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds – though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. It prefers tropical and sub-tropical climates but survives brief spells of frost and freeze (-7° C/ 20° F). Jacaranda loves sunny locations and ample watering. If the tree does not receive sufficient water, it tends to become chlorotic.

Flowers of Jacaranda

Jacaranda produces clusters of lilac and purple flowers in spring and early summer. The trumpet-shaped flowers have a hint of fragrance and can be up to 5 cm long. Flowering is followed by formation of woody seed pods. Both seed pods and flowers of Jacaranda tend to fall and litter the ground.

flower of jacaranda

Photo © Forest & Kim Starr

Uses of Jacaranda Tree

There are many interesting uses of Jacaranda. The wood has a pleasant scent. It is easy to work and finish for carpentry purposes. Because of the handsome finish and beautiful streaks that polished Jacaranda timber produces, it is used in Egypt for making beautiful pianos. The water extracts of Jacaranda has medicinal value; it is antimicrobial.

seeds of jacaranda

Photo © Forest & Kim Starr

Jacaranda can be grown as street tree to provide shady shelters, in landscapes and lawns for its profuse flowers or in large pots as an ornamental plant for container gardening. It can also be turned in to a nicely sculpted bonsai tree.

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.

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.