Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nizhal tree walk at the Planetarium

The Nizhal tree walk for the month was held within the Planetarium campus. About 35 of us gathered at 7am and proceeded to observe the trees, led by Mr. Sudhakar of the Madras Naturalists Society.

The road to the inner gate was lined with the raintree on the right and the bullet wood tree on the left.

The raintree (samanea saman) is called the 'thoongamoonji tree' in tamil as its leaves close in the late evenings, giving hte tree an appearance of being in deep sleep. This tree is native to south america, where an insect is supposed to fix moisture on its leaves - hence the name.

The bullet wood tree (mimosops mimusops elengi) is called 'magizham' in tamil It has small wavy edged leaves and small yellow fruit.
Behind the bullet wood tree was the Indian ironwood tree (cassia siamea) which had small yellow cassia flowers, often several huddled together to form lines of yellow at teh ends of the branches. This tree is called the sarai konnai in tamil.
On the right as we approached the inner gate was the morinda pubescens /morinda tinctoria called the ivory wood/ indian mulberry in english and nuna in tamil. The nuna can be easily identified by its green fruit that looks like it has a pattern of black dots within circular compartmnets on it. The morinda tinctoria has small white flowers and is used to make dyes and cow yolks.

Next to the morinda tinctoria was the ubiquitous indian beech/ poongham in tamil (pongamia glabra). As always its leaves were infested with white dots. The oil from the nuts of this tree is used to make biodiesel.

While the rest of us were cranking our necks to look at the trees and ignoring the ground for the most part, one observant walker noticed the thuduvalai close to the ground. This climber is called the thai nightshade in english (solanum trilobatum). Not unlike the thorny nightshade i encountered in the adyar river park, its leaves have spines and its flowers are purple with a yellow center. We were told that it has small red berries and has anti cancerous properties. The leaves had about 4/5 lobes and were shaped like smaller versions of the ladys finger/okra's leaves.

The trees had quite a few seenthil (tinospora cordifolia), the leafless parasite that takes nourishment from the hosts.

Next was the wrightwrightia tinctoria or the palai maram. Distinguishable by its fruit which is always found in pairs of long thin cylindrical pods, joined at the ends, this TDEF tree is used in dye making.

Upon entering the grounds we encountered the indian orchid tree / camel foot tree (bauhinia species) on the immediate left. The tree unfortunately was being choked by its tree guard. We werent able to tell which bauhinia it was as there were no flowers. Shobha from Nizhal took this opportunity to tell the group that they could call/write in to the corporation if they see trees that have overgrown their guards.

The common copperpod / rusty shield bearer was present, full of its rust colored pods. A little ahead was the albizia lebbeck (motherinlaw's tongue/ frywood tree), distinguishable from the raintree by its straight lighter colored trunk that went upright for a bit before branching out. The neems (azadirachta indica) were aplenty, as were the gulmohars(delonix regia). The indian periwinkle plant was in full bloom, whites and violets and someone spoke about their anticancerous properties. One interesting fact that came to light was that the gulmohars, at some point of time, were actually endangered in their native madagascar. Unthinkable in this part of the world, where this foreign species has been introduced in almost every street by the corporation.

Next to one of the gulmohars was the thenpooji maram (west indian elm/bastard cedar). This one, the Guazuma ulmifolia had very pretty leaves - oval shaped with minutely serated edges. The fruit is aptly called the 'false rudraksh' because of its appearance. According to a study by the forest departement, this tree attracts the most dust and is hence most effective in controlling pollution.

After the turn were the more popular flowering species - the frangipani (plumeria/temple tree/champa), ixora, the cassia roxbergia roxberghii/marginata (pink cassia), lavender lantana camaras and the tabebuia roseo. The guava tree, which gives very strong timber, was also present.

We also saw the acacia auriculiformis, so called because of its thin-ear-shaped dark green leaves.

I finally came to know the name of a tree that i've seen everywhere but have been unable to identify - it is the lanea coromandalica lannea coromandelica or the indian ash, odhiyam in tamil. This one was covered with leaves and did not have any of the chain like flowers/fruit. To see what this tree looks like in May when it is covered with its golden chain like fruit, click here.

The last leg of the walk had the tamarind tree (tamarindus indica) and the teak tree (tectona grandis - planted extensively in MP and kerala by the british for use in ship building). The parthenium (congress weed with its tomato like leaves and white cap) was all over the ground. A native of south america, this weed came along with a wheat consignment in the late 60s and established its presence all over the country.

With that we came to the end of another fun and enriching tree walk! Many new species names learnt, and as always, many many more to go!


Padmini said...

Hi Arati,
Such a prompt write-up!
Since I spelt out some of the names for you, you will forgive my correcting some spellings etc.
-Cassia fistula is "sarai konnai".
-Cassia auriculiformis is so named because the leaves are shaped like our ears,"auricles".
-Lannea coromandelica is the tree you were admiring.

Arati said...

thank you padmini! i've made the corrections