Your city has treasures you pass by without ever taking notice. In this fortnightly series, experts help you discover these gems.
The frenetic pace of construction in our cities means there is less and less room for natural vegetation in the urban habitat. Man is crowding out nature, not just physically, but also in his own head—with every passing generation our dependence on technology and newer gadgets is growing, while the number of trees, flowers, birds and butterflies we can recognize and identify is dwindling. The change of seasons, the phases of the moon, the names of constellations—these hardly register in our consciousness.
Tree man: Krishen at the Sundar Nursery in Nizamuddin.
To inaugurate a Lounge series on things and places we can visit and see in our cities, we asked Pradip Krishen, naturalist and author of the celebrated classic Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide, to identify five striking, beautiful and singular specimens of trees Delhiites should know about and see. “My menu of favourite trees of Delhi would actually vary depending on what time of the year it is,” says Krishen. “But this time of the year is particularly good for tree spotting in Delhi.” We present photos of the trees along with brief comments by Krishen.
The majestic specimen of this African tree, tucked to one side of the Sundar Nursery in Nizamuddin, is the only one of its kind to be found in Delhi. The 100ft tall tree has grown to an impressively massive size even though Delhi’s ecosystem—with its soil, moisture, temperature conditions—usually supports trees that are only 50-60ft tall. Most trees not native to Delhi are stunted but this specimen has unfurled to its full size. It is amazing that having seen this tree no one thought of transplanting more of them.
A row of 12 of these trees, regarded as one of India’s most beautiful for their apricot-coloured flowers, graces the historic Roshanara Bagh. Sita-Ashok actually requires a more moist climate than Delhi’s. It flowers in the last week of March, peaking in early April. The tender new leaves, without chlorophyll, hang like pendants and have a distinctive pink, pale brown colour.
The leaves of Khabbar are like those of the olive trees found in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. It is found in the desert—in the belt that extends from the Marwar region in western Rajasthan right through the Arabian Desert to the Sahara. A beautiful specimen can be found near the Alai Darwaza inside the Qutub Minar complex. Khabbar has a thick trunk and a relatively short canopy, which often hangs and hides the trunk. It also has little niches in its bark that support rodents, squirrels, insects, birds and snakes.
Lovely specimens of the beautiful, if somewhat diminutive, Bistendu trees—trimmed into topiary—can be spotted in the lawns in front of North and South Blocks. Especially beautiful at this time of the year, it is the only tree native to Delhi that the British used ornamentally. The Bistendu is not a dominating tree—about 6m tall on average, it is an understorey tree in the forest, that is, it is part of the lower level of plants that grow under the forest canopy.
Among Delhi’s most beautiful shade trees, the Pilkhan peaks, so to speak, in April. Its leaves are coppery when they sprout, changing colour to light green and then darkening slowly. There is a lovely specimen in the Humayun’s Tomb complex. Pilkhan’s habitat is extensive, and it can be found in large parts of the Gangetic plains, the dry deciduous forest in central India and the whole of the sub- Himalayan tract.
Photographs by Ramesh Pathania/Mint