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Tree Diaries

Trees silently root themselves into the earth and cast a spell of grandeur by their diverse and beautiful forms. Spread through the many seasons, are many phenological patterns of trees we cherish, showing various stages of flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds. With one glimpse of the tree, it is hard to familiarize ourselves with its various forms.  Thus, a visual representation of the tree might come handy, to know more about its transitions at a glance. 

What started as a small desire to create such tree-info boards grew into a project with many tree enthusiasts joining in to write and illustrate. This project effort was one of the many project outcomes of Neralu, the Bengaluru Tree Festival – a crowd funded, collaborative, community-driven, public initiative. The team involved worked with the main festival venue within BalBhavan, Cubbon park and identified about 24 species of trees. A call for volunteers to illustrate and write about the trees was put out and got overwhelming support. An eclectic group of students, researchers, practitioners and artists came together to work on this project. 

The illustrators shared a unified belief that sketches are a much powerful visual tool, as they help to present facts more directly.  The enthusiasts who helped put together the text spent time researching and collecting accurate and interesting information about long-listed trees.  This network spread far and wide when a Mumbai based designer got in touch and expressed interest to contribute. She helped envision and format all this material into a beautiful visual layout. Such combined efforts collectively brought out remarkable tree boards in time for the Tree festival.

Hung around the respective trees as display boards, these visual narratives turned storytellers for these silent giants during the first run of Neralu, 2014. 

--- Sangeetha Kadur

Wild Fig or Gular - Ficus racemosa ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

This fig tree is a common native of India and a favourite of mammals, birds, bees and bats, which are attracted to the fruits.  Unlike the Banyan, it does not produce aerial prop roots. Like all figs, this fig is a cluster of flowers. These enclosed flowers are pollinated by very small fig wasps, often specific to the fig species that crawl through the fig's opening. They arrive in search of a suitable place to lay eggs, so that the next generation of wasps are provided for by the figs, with both a safe haven to grow in and nourishment. A large number of species are dependent on fig trees in forests, therefore they are considered 'keystone species' which are indicators of forest health.

Aliases: Udumbara (Sanskrit),  Atti (Kannada)

Origin: India

Indian Almond - Terminalia catappa ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

This short tree is found across Asia and is not in the same family as the true almond but the almond-like fruits are much smaller and the nuts are edible when fully ripe. It has large, smooth, shiny leaves that turn red and yellow before being shed - providing a beautiful sight to behold. The branches form whorls at different levels radiating outwards like spokes. It is cultivated as an ornamental and for fruits and yields almond-like oil. The bark and leaves are used in dyeing.

Aliases: Jungli Badam (Hindi), Kaadu Badami (Kannada)

Origin: India

Copper Pod or Rusty Shield Bearer - Peltophorum pterocarpum ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

It is a common Southeast Asian avenue tree that bears bright yellow pyramidal clusters of flowers with crinkled petals on the top of the canopy. The tree blooms in summer and leaves a spectacular yellow carpet of fallen flowers. The pods, borne in profusion, are dark and coppery before they turn black. This ornamental tree is hardy, easy to propagate and an excellent shade provider; it is also efficient in trapping dust and other suspended particulates.

Aliases: Haladi Gulmohar (Kannada)

Origin: South-eastern Asia and Northern Australasia

Camel's Foot Tree - Bauhinia purpurea & Bauhinia variegata ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

These medium-sized trees are native to the region and are easily identified by the characteristic camel-hoof shaped leaves and long flat pods that hang from their branches. The genus name is after the Bauhin brothers, and these trees belong to the same family as the pea.  Known for attractive flowers, they are found throughout India and are cultivated in gardens as an ornamental. Their fragrant and showy orchid-like pink, purple or white flowers attract pollinators. In India, every part of this tree, from its leaves to its bark (ropes and dyes) and flowers (food and medicine) are used by different communities. 

Aliases: Kanchana (Sanskrit),  Basavanapaada / Kanchivaladahoovu (Kannada).

Origin: Native to South China andSoutheast Asia, India

Spectacular Cassia - Senna spectabilis ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

This short but spreading, ornamental tree is a native of tropical America and bears a cluster of golden yellow flowers in late summer at the tips of the outer branches. It bears long flattened pods that have a green surface that turns black with age. The wood is termite resistant and like other legumes it helps fix nitrogen. The tree is a good shade provider and is suitable as a windbreak. 

Origin: Tropical America

Jacaranda - Jacaranda mimosifolia ; Text by Uma Bharath; Illustration by Abhisheka Gopal

Jacaranda makes an ideal avenue tree with pleasant open shade, creating a spectacular sight when in full bloom in February and March. It is native to South America but has been widely planted all over the world for its beautiful purple-blue flowers. The bell-shaped flowers are a striking purple-blue and bear a conspicuous foot long inflorescence. The leaves are compound and feathery. The seed capsules may hang on the tree for up to 2 years. They are round and woody, and split open when dry, setting free many light-winged seeds.

Origin: Central and South America

Honge Mara - Milletia pinnata ; Text by Shyamal L; Illustration by Madhavi Raj

This tree from southern India was earlier placed in the genus Pongamia, a name derived from the Tamil and Malayalam name Pongam. The wood can be carved or used for fuel. Bark infusions are used in traditional medicine, while the seeds are used for extracting lamp oil and the leftover cake is rich in nitrogen and used for green manure or as cattle feed. The tree grows to a low height in the plains, often beside canals. The oil has been of interest as a biofuel. The flowers are great attractors of pollinators. Leaves sometimes have galls caused by insects while the flowers themselves are attacked by midges that induce flower galls. The round structures look like fruits but the true pods of the Honge are flat and large.

Origin: tropical and temperate Asia

Pink Trumpet Tree - Tabebuia impetiginosa ; Text by Suma Rao; Illustration by Madhavi Raj

The Pink Trumpet tree can be kept as a moderate sized tree and is spectacular when in bloom. The long tubular clusters of pink - magenta flowers adorn the whole tree during December and January.  The rest of the year, you can identify the tree through its palmately compound leaves. One can see this tree in gardens, public squares and boulevards all around Bangalore. The tree is semi evergreen. 

Origin: America, distributed from Northern Mexico south to Northern Argentina.

Jackfruit - Artocarpus heterophyllus ; Text by Shyamal L; Illustration by Madhavi Raj

This well-known native of India is known for its enormous fruits that are borne directly from the trunk. The fruits are a favourite of elephants and such large mammals may have been the main dispersers of their seeds in forests. A number of varieties are maintained around homes. Latex from young fruits has been traditionally used for trapping birds or as a cementing material and cutting the fruit involves oiling of knives and hands to avoid fouling. Unripe fruits can be cooked. Ripe fruit can be eaten, jellied or dried for making chips. The seeds can be boiled or fried and eaten. The wood is valuable. The name "Jack" is a corruption of its Malayalam name.

Origin: India

False Ashoka - Polyalthia longifolia; Text by Shashi Kolar; Illustration by Shubhika

This tree is called the False Ashoka in deference to the "real" one, Saracaasoca, as the leaves appear similar. This upright tree is also called the mast tree for its straight central trunk from which the branches droop down. They are used in landscaping for their distinctive form, as a windbreak and hedge. They bloom around February and March, with small five-pointed yellowish-green star-like flowers. Largely inconspicuous, these flowers last a few weeks and are odorless. The fruits are ovoid, about 2 centimeters in length and contain a single seed through which the tree is propagated. The fruits are very attractive to bats. The extracts of leaves and barks are used in traditional remedies to treat fever, skin diseases, diabetes and hypertension.

Origin: India and Sri Lanka

Tree of Gold - Tabebuia argentea ; Text by Shashi Kolar; Illustration by Shubhika

Known for its yellow, trumpet shaped blooms, this is a small, semi-deciduous tree reaching about 10 to 20 feet in height, with an open crown of slender branches. The silvery grey green leaves are oblong and fan outward like the extended fingers of a hand. The trees lose nearly all their leaves before bursting with clusters of flowers at the tips of the branches. The bark is corky, deeply furrowed and split into two or three branches that support the crown.

Origin: Argentina and some other parts of South America

Mango tree - Mangifera indica; Text by Shashi Kolar; Illustration by Shubhika

Bearing the national fruit of India, this large evergreen tree has a stout trunk that branches into dense foliage up to 100 feet off the ground in the wild, supported by a tap root reaching 20 feet below it. Thought to have originated in southern Asia, they can live for close to 300 years when grown in warm, frost-free regions with a well defined dry season. They flower profusely in winter and set fruit in the summer. The fruit, a drupe, has a single seed and the pulp around it shows a great deal of variation in the taste and texture. Various parts of the tree are used in medicine and in religious traditions.

Origin: Southern Asia

Pride of India - Lagerstroemia speciosa ; Text by Shashi Kolar; Illustration by Shubhika

This tree is best known for the large spikes of purple or lavender blooms, appearing in foot-long clusters during June and July. The flowers vary in colour as they age and look crinkled and appear as if made of crape paper.  Although short in stature in dry areas, they can grow tall, up to 60 feet. The bark is smooth, mottled and peeling, and the wood was used for railroad sleepers and can be used for furniture and construction. The leaves are oblong, leathery and may turn red before falling in winter. Leaf extracts are used in traditional remedies for diabetes and kidney diseases. The bark is said to be purgative while the roots help in fevers.

Origin: Southern Asia

Tamarind Tree - Tamarindus indica ; Text by Shashi Kolar; Illustration by Shubhika

Called Hunsemara in Kannada, its sour fruit is used almost every day in cooking, food preservation and in traditional medicine. Although mentioned in ancient Indian literature, this leguminous tree may have originated in Madagascar before being introduced through Arab traders. Rarely found the in wild, and widely grown in India it is known for its expansive crown, gnarled trunk and branches with fissured bark.  The trees often have hollows that are home to spotted owlets and birds such as mynas. They bear pale yellow flowers and are covered with brown pods in summer. These pods, or fruits, contain seeds suspended in pulp rich in sugar and tartaric acid. The seeds find use in the manufacture of adhesives and oils.

Origin :Tropical Africa

Neralu Tree Festival

This photo story is a result of collaborative work by a team of illustrators, writers and tree lovers. Names of the artists and writers for each tree poster are mentioned in their respective captions. The work was done for Neralu, a crowd-funded, volunteer driven urban tree festival.



vidya
Very nice and informative article compilation!! Loved the sketches by Shubhika, Madhavi Raj and Abhishka Gopal....it really helps a lot in identifying the trees.
Posted on 3/4/14 1:56 PM.
Badri
Very thoughtful primer on fourteen of our most common avenue trees. Illustrations and text are crystal clear. Kudos to this very talented group. As a personal takeaway, I learned the identity of Ficus racemosa, a tree I was seeing all the time without being able to ID.
Posted on 3/4/14 2:44 PM.
Sangeetha
Thank you for showing a keen interest to showcase the artworks & the write-ups created during the tree festival, on JLR Explore !
Posted on 3/4/14 8:11 PM.
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