Friday, March 09, 2007

The Tesu Tree in Mhow

"I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree" - American poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

(Kilmer was killed in the trench warfare of World War One)

Spring is in the air. The Semul or silk cotton tree (Salmalia malabarica or Bombax malabaricum) is on flower. And so is the mango. "Aam kay ped par mor aaye hain" I overheard a young girl tell her grandfather. The flower of the mango tree is known as mor (peacock) in Hindi. And the most beautiful of all trees is the Flame of the Forest or Dhak. It is also known as Palas, Bastard Teak, Parrot Tree, Porasum (Tamil) , Khakda (Gujarati).The battle of Plassey was fought near a forest full of these trees. And I have seen villages named Palasiya in Madhya Pradesh. I recommend a google search for all those of you who are do not live in areas where this tree grows naturally. I remember boiling the flowers and making colour for Holi when I was a child and my Dad was posted in Mhow.

A naturalist from Pune had once written an essay on this tree in Bittu Sahgal's Sanctuary magazine and he had claimed to have seen more than twenty species of birds on this tree in a short time span of 3 or 4 hours. I love the feel of the trifoliate leaves when they are green, it is like touching suede. I have often seen squirrels and parrots eating the seeds from the pods. I used to collect these pods, one had to get to them when they fell down before the squirrels did so. Even succeeded in making some of them sprout but they died and I felt heartbroken.

I remember taking some photographs of a clump of these trees from a moving train while travelling from Indore to Jabalpur almost ten years ago. I wish a serious effort is undertaken to make this tree more popular. Whenever I see the Flame of the forest on flower I remember these words of the poet Ezra Pound :"The difference between a gun and a tree is a difference of tempo. The tree explodes every spring."

On March 3 I went around town on a moped with a young man named Shyam who I borrowed from a photographer's studio and who was wielding a digital camera. We were taking pictures of a small stadium and on the way back we took a few pictures of a Flame of the Forest tree. I am including them in this post so that all of you can also enjoy this sight.

p.s. In the last picture you can see a male purple sunbird. A parakeet was also sitting on this tree but we disturbed it so it flew away. Maybe we will have better luck next time.

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