ENVIRONMENT The trees on the NGMA premises are a study in themselves
We are in an era where moonwalks are less of a speciality than tree walks. Nevertheless, the tree walk organized by the NGMA in their “arboretum” was more charming than its dance counterpart.
Guiding what seemed to be quite a large turnout for a hot Saturday afternoon was nature enthusiast Vijay Thiruvady of the Lalbagh heritage walk fame. He led the group around the campus, talking about the trees in bloom during this season. The “tree of the month” which was in full bloom in the campus was the Red Silk Cotton Tree, or Bombax.
“The trees drop their leaves in spring to face the onslaught of summer. At this time, their flowers come out for the bees and birds to pollinate. New leaves sprout once the summer is over and the monsoon starts.”
He pointed out that the first references to the tree were made in Guru Nanak's “Bara Masi”. Other historical references include the Mahabharata. “It is said the Pitamah Brahma reposed against this tree after creation. There is a similar tree in the Lalbagh gardens which has larger buttresses. These trees, which grow largely in dry regions, can reach a height of over 130 feet. There are different types of silk cotton trees in India that produce white and yellow flowers,” he explained.
He also talked about the many uses of the silk cotton tree. Its cotton is used in pillows, while its wood is used to make matchsticks. He went on to talk about Cassia marginata with its light-coloured flowers and pipe-like pods with stacked coin-like seeds, and the Rain Tree (Samanea saman). “The Rain Tree has terrific foliage and a good shade. It is probably the only tree under which the grass grows greener than in the perimeter. It derives its common name from the insects in the tree, which make a watery sound. Sometimes one even finds wet patches under the tree. It is known for its leaves which open up during the day and fold up during the night.”
Another tree that Vijay spoke at length about was the Rubber Fig or Ficus elastica, which is indigenous to North-East India, mainly Assam. “The British discovered the first rubber from this tree. Between 1840 and 1870, the tree was exploited for its rubber. But they soon found that only limited quantities of rubber can be extracted from it, so they cut off all the rubber trees in Assam.”
Then there is the Sandalwood tree, which he said is a semi-parasite and has good chances of survival only if paired with another tree close by. “Sandalwood trees are complicated trees. It needs a specific bug in the soil, which is found only in South India, apart from countries like Madagascar, Indonesia and Australia. Sandalwood trees take about 30 to 40 years to mature and start producing oil. The oil is found only in the heartwood, though the roots are also clogged with oil. The best sandalwood oil, with two per cent by weight, comes from Karnataka.”
Vijay also pointed out the Yellow Trumpet Tree, which was in bloom, the Pride of India and the Bougainvillea plant.