The phenomenon of plant blindness and tree blindness has been well documented the world over and it’s natural for a city folks who are not living in lap of nature anymore to forget the names of the trees, to forget what the leaves could be used for, to forget what the fruits could be used for and unfortunately it’s a problem we are all suffering from and that why during this lockdown I decided to start this unique initiative which I’m hoping I could continue, become a student again and learn about these trees once again in this new article called Talking Trees.
So, who’s going to help me navigate this mysterious world of trees? Well apart from that World Wide Web we all know; I’m also going to be using pictures from this wonderful website called Flowers of India which has documented a large proportion of the flora that we actually find in our country as well as this book “Jungle Trees of Central India by Pradip Kishen”. This is one of the most wonderful field guides I’ve gone through and this is something I’m doing as a revisit. I’ve left the link of where you can actually purchase this book as well as the link of the website Flowers of India at the end of this article, should you like to at any moment refer to the same.
Since I love doing safari, I thought we’ll be doing this in an interesting way. Actually, looking at a specific tiger reserve and a few of the trees you are likely to find there.
THE PENCH TIGER RESERVE
Now the Pench Tiger Reserve is broadly spread over just under 2000 sq. km over the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, so it’s a very large reserve and because of that you have a good diversity of tree species as well as a diversity of the type of forest.
Type of forest found in Pench Tiger Reserve: Central Deccan Dry Deciduous Teak Forest
The word “Deccan” actually comes from the Deccan Plateau think of the Deccan Plateau as a triangle with the southern of this triangle rising higher than the rest. The southern part of the Deccan Plateau has a height of 1000 meters above sea level and the central part is usually at the lower elevations and that’s where Pench is. Now let’s come to second word “dry”. The region is actually characterised by low rainfall or more variability in the rainfall. The reason that is actually there is that you have 5-6 months without any rainfall whatsoever and thus the region witnesses the apposite of water due to which of course even nutrients in the soil tend to be a little less. The next word “Deciduous” basically means that the trees shed their leaves in the dry season. And finally, that last word just before forest, “Teak”, that’s the first tree that we are actually going to discuss in this article today.
Teak or Tectona Grandis, now of you may already be familiar with Teak, not by seeing the tree but when you may have visited a furniture showroom or shop that’s right you may have heard the shopkeeper mention this particular tree and yes of course the wood or the timber is very popular for making furniture. Teak of course is far more than that else where it has been a very important tree in forestry operations since a last 150 years.
When you visit certain parts of Pench you would actually see pure stands of just Teak and this is the result of those forestry practices mono plantations of those trees and even the name that is actually used today in train what is known as CP Teak actually comes from that time CP Teak meaning Central Provinces Teak. That what was used as its term in British Raj.
Now to get to know, how to actually identify this tree? We are going to be looking at four things:
- The Leaf
- The flower
- The Bark, and
- The Fruit
- TEAK LEAF
When we look at the leaves of this particular trees because that’s one of the most important characteristics that comes to when we actually identify trees. Now leaves of the Teak tree are very large, broad and it’s a single simple leaf not divided in anyway nor any serrations at its edges. Interestingly, this leaf except where it actually comes new and is nice bright green, usually wears a very bit regal condition because of the attack of a particular type of moth known as the ‘Teak Defoliator’. That’s why when you actually visit the forest any time during the dry season which is winter in our country, you’ll see that this leaf actually has holes in it, it looks a little bit transparent usually not in the best of condition. In fact, in the forest of Pench, you will see this entire soil is littered with these big brown leaves.
- TEAK BARK
Interestingly, the bark of this tree brown in colour and it has these thin vertical papery strips as well which you feel will feel off at any point of time.
- TEAK FLOWERS
The beautiful flowers of this tree are another story though. They are small, white, delicate and they usually come somewhat in the middle of the monsoon (usually around July to August).
- TEAK FRUIT
Interestingly, the fruit of this tree is quite unusual. It looks like a mini version of a pumpkin except with the glues green papery surface.
Uses of Teak tree:
- Medicines: The seeds and even the flowers of this tree are used in traditional Indian medicines for years. They have been used to cure a variety of intestinal, urinary and even problems with digestion.
- Timber: Now of course, teak’s primary value for many of the people throughout the globe comes through its timber, which is very popular in furniture making but teak wood also has other interesting properties. It is in fact quite water resistant as well and during olden times it was very popular in the ship building industry.
DID YOU KNOW?
Teak comes from the “MINT FAMILY”.
Well, that’s our introduction to teak. Now, let’s looks at another tree at this landscape.
There is a particular variety of tree we have actually often associated with dry landscapes, “Acacias”, and we are actually going to get introduced to another one of those trees, but you might be surprised. We are going to looking at Acacia Catechu or Senegalia Catechu, also known as “Khair”.
Now as I mentioned, Acacia seems to do well in areas where there is no water and yes! Acacia Catechu or Khair is no exception. In fact, in areas where there is little or no water. You can actually see this tree like teak, in pure strands, just this species. But here’s an interesting part, khair actually grows very well in areas where there is a good availability of water. In fact, it reaches its maximum height of almost 30 meters or so, In areas of the north west Himalayas, in river line areas close to the water’s edge.
However, in central India you will not see this tree growing as tall because of the lack of water. What you are going to see here in central India is that the tree is going to be little shorter than that may be around the range of about 10-15 meters. It’s going to be a little bit crooked and you’ll see that the leaves almost look like feathers from a distance and almost in tears.
- KHAIR LEAVES
The leaf structure of the Acacia Catechu or khair is very interesting. One leaf is actually broken down further into side stocks. So there are these alternating pairs that you see of those tiny leaves which are actually composed of leaflets and once you actually go further, those side stocks are further broken down into leaflets. So that’s what you actually see, two levels of differentiation on this particular leaf. Now, usually you may see almost 40 or 50 alternating pairs of these leaflets on the Acacia Catechu. Khair is a deciduous tree, so it does shed it’s leaves in the dry season and the tree usually comes into new leaves somewhat towards the end of summer around May or so. It is very quickly followed by the flowers also coming.
- KHAIR FLOWERS
The cylindrical cones that you can actually see filled with white flowers and these flowers of course usually last till July.
- KHIR FRUIT
This is another unique identifying character of this particular tree and one which helps you actually recognize this tree. Those long papery brown pods that we see hanging off this tree, that’s the fruit and usually when that fruit breaks open is when the seeds actually come out and are disseminated by the wind.
- KHAIR BARK
The bark of this tree is also a little bit of different. It’s somewhat similar in the fact with the teak that there are also these vertical strips. In this case though they are much broader and they are almost flakey like they are almost coming off basically off the tree.
FACTS ABOUT KAIR TREE:
Khair is a of course a very famous tree. One of the reasons is that it is a very fast-growing tree. And that’s why it’s very popular in plantations and agroforestry and the second reason for it being famous is it’s “Heart wood”.
Now a tree is usually composed of two parts. The heart wood and the sapwood. The sapwood is the outer layer of the tree basically and that’s the part of the tree which we can usually see even if we scrap it a little but the inner core is actually called the heart wood. The heart wood of this tree is really important. It’s really hard, rigid and that’s why it’s used in few agricultural implements as well. It’s used as a rice pestle, it’s used on tool handles and a very important product id derived from it which you have heard about, “Kattha”. Now Kattha as many of you might recall is actually used in “Pan” which is something we have after meals as a refreshment. It freshens up the mouth with that minty flavor. Some people also have an unfortunate habit of also spitting in places and interestingly the mrks that it leaves on the wall is because of kattha.
Link to the Flowers of India website: http://www.flowersofindia.net/
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