23 Jun

Evergreen Tropical Tree of Jamun: Syzygium Cumini

Syzygium Cumini or Jaumn tree has a special significance with the monsoon of the Indian sub-continent. This is the time when big old trees of Jamun whirl in monsoon winds and spread a hint of fragrance in rainy days. The purple-black fruit of Jamun ripens and is eaten very fondly.

Syzygium Cumini, The Java Plum tree

Syzygium Cumini, The Java Plum tree

Jamun (also known as Java Plum tree) is an evergreen, tall and shady tree that originally belongs to temperate regions of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. This ornamental tree grows tall and becomes woody very fast. The timber is durable and water resistant. Because timber of Jamun is quite hard to work on, it is usually used for making planks and carts. Mature trees of Jaumn bear white and tiny flowers that are usually behind broad pendant trees. The fruit is eaten as whole or used in traditional medicine. Bark of Jamun tree is used in dyeing and tanning.

Besides its sweet, sometimes astringent, edible fruit, Jamun is grown as ornamental and shady tree. Jamun is quite hardy tree and does not require much care. It can tolerate frost as well as long spells of summer. Young plants should be provided with a well drained soil, moderate watering and bright sunlight.

Fruit of Jamun Tree

Fruit of Jamun Tree

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.

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.

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.