Society for Conservation of Nature

Heritage and Threatened Trees of Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

HERITAGE AND THREATENED TREES OF KALAKKAD MUNDANTHURAI TIGER RESERVE

Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) is located in the Western Ghats. This occupies major areas in Tirunelveli district and a small portion in Kanyakumari. This is the second largest protected area in Tamil Nadu. This was formed in 1988. This reserve forms the catchment area for 14 major rivers and numerous streams. Seven major dams built here are fed by the rivers and streams which originate from the reserve.  This reserve is under active consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site. This Tiger Reserve has about 150 endemic plants. This provides habitat for 77 mammal species, 273 bird species, 81 reptiles, 37 amphibians and 33 fish species.

Some of the threatened and heritage tree species as identified by the Society for Conservation of Nature (SOFCON) by its President V.Sundararaju, a former Deputy Conservator of Forests in this reserve are described here in detail for creating better awareness among the educated community. Because of the good protection given by the reserve authorities, these rare and threatened tree species are doing well.

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THE TEAM WHICH TOOK STRENUOUS EFFORTS IN IDENTIFYING THE RARE HERITAGE TREES

We are thankful to the Forester Mr.Chelladurai, the Anti Poaching Watchers M/S Manikandan, Boothathaan, etc., and the Driver Mr. Marimuthu for their wonderful team work in taking us deep inside the forests and helped in  identifying the rare and endangered Heritage Trees of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. Without their support, definitely the task would not have been possible. We are thankful to the Deputy Director Mr.Jayaraj, KMTR and the Forest Range Officer Mr.Karthikeyan also for the wonderful support rendered.

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HOPEA UTILIS-KARUNKONGU (TAMIL NAME)-‘DIPTEROCARPACEAE’, FAMILY-GIRTH: 2.42 M; HEIGHT: 14 M -AGE ABOUT 150 YEARS IN KMTR OF TIRUNELVELI DISTRICT

This is a lofty evergreen tree growing to a height of 18-24 metres and found in between 300-900 metres south of Courtallum in Tirunelveli hills. This is also found in Thenmalai and the Silent Valley of Kerala state. This is called ‘Karunkongu’ in Tamil and ‘Karakongu’ in Malayalam. This belongs to the family ‘Dipterocarpaceae’. Profuse regeneration is noticed around the parent tree. Slow growing in nature. Mostly found in semi-evergreen forest near rivers. Classified as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The tree has timber value. This tree prefers a medium to light, well-drained soil. Trees are sensitive to forest fires.

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CHLOROXYLON SWIETENIA-VAMMARAI OR PORASU (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 2.55 M; HEIGHT: 22 M; AGE ABOUT 200 YEARS-KMTR OF TIRUNELVELI DISTRICT

This is a middle sized, pretty tree mostly found growing in dry deciduous forests. The Trade Name is ‘Satin wood’. This is native to southern India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. This is known as ‘Porasu’, ‘Vammarai’, ‘Varimarai’, ‘Vaimaram’ or ‘Vainari’ in Tamil, ‘Billu’ in Telugu, ‘Huragalu’ in Kannada and ‘Bhera’ in Hindi. This belongs to the family ‘Meliaceae’. The yellow or cream-coloured wood is hardy and has a beautiful satiny lustre. This tree species is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This flowers between March and April and bears fruits in June. Wood is used for cabinet work, picture frames, engravings, etc. This is a first class veneer wood and in which figuring can be made effectively. The leaves are used for treating rheumatism.

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HOPEA PARVIFLORA-KONGU-GIRTH: 4.55 M; HEIGHT; 32 M; AGE ABOUT 250 YEARS-KMTR OF TIRUNELVELI DISTRICT

This is a magnificent tree growing in evergreen forests of Western Ghats up to 900 metres and often gregarious. This belongs to the family ‘Dipterocarpaceae’. The Trade name is ‘The Iron Wood of Malabar’ or ‘Hopea’. This is known as ‘Kongu’, Vellaikongu’ or ‘Pongu’ in Tamil, ‘Irumbagam’,  ‘Urippu’  or ‘Thambagam’ in Malayalam and ‘Kiralbogi’ in Kannada. The wood is brown, hard, close and even grained. The flowers are creamy-yellow with sweet scent. This flowers in January-February and bears fruits in May-June. The wood is used for house construction, for making planks, piles for bridges, platform boards, agricultural implements, railway sleepers, electric poles, ship building, road rammers, rice pounders, ladders, engine break blocks, railway keys, boats, decorative wood work and turnery. The bark is used for tanning heavy quality leather. This tree is endemic to Southern Western Ghats. This is classified as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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VITEX ALTISSIMA- MYLADI (TAMIL NAME)- GIRTH: 3.75 M; HEIGHT; 40 M; AGE ABOUT 150 YEARS IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

This is a large tree found growing in dry and deciduous forests of Deccan, Carnatic and West Coast. Sometimes this is found in evergreen forests up to 1200 metres. This tree grows in Assam and Meghalaya also. The Common names are ‘Peacock Chaste Tree’, ‘Tail Chaste Tree’ or ‘Peacock’s Foot Tree’. The Trade name is ‘Milla’. This is called ‘Mayilei’, Mayilainochi’ or  ‘Mayiladi’ in Tamil; ‘Maila’ or ‘Myladi’ in Malayalam; ‘Nimiliadugu’ or ‘Nemaliadugu’ in Telugu and ‘Myrole’, ‘Navaladi’ or ‘Navuladi’ in Kannada. This belongs to the family ‘Verbenaceae’. This tree flowers in April-August and bears fruits in June-September.

The leaves are 3-foliate; petiole angular or winged; elliptic-lanceolate.

In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves, fruits and roots are used for treating kapha, vata, inflammation, wounds, ulcers, allergy, eczema, worm infestations, urinary system diseases, etc.

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KINGIODENDRAON PINNATUM-KOLAVU (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 5.72 M; HEIGHT: 42 M; AGE ABOUT 250 YEARS IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

A large evergreen tree, grows to a height of 35 metres in evergreen climax forests of Western Ghats in South Kanara, Malabar, Tirunelveli and Travancore up to 900 metres. The Trade Name is  ‘Pirey’ or ‘Malabar Mahogany’.  This is known as ‘Kolavu’, ‘Malayan samprani’ or ‘Koda palai’ in Tamil; ‘Koda pala’, ‘Kiyavu’, Chunnapayini’ or ‘Shurali’ in Malayalam and ‘Chou-paini’ or ‘Yennamara’ in Kannada. This belongs to the family ‘Caesalpinoideae’. This tree flowers in January-March and bears fruits in May-July and October. The population has declined considerably because of overexploitation and habitat degradation. Regeneration appears to be very poor. This tree is classified as ‘Endangered’ in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The wood is used for making planks, furniture in Malabar under the name of ‘Malabar Mahogany’. The resin collected by tapping the heartwood is used as varnish in S.Kanara and Tirunelveli. One tree is said to yield 20 to 27 litres of oleo-resin and can be tapped again after a decade.

The resin obtained by piercing the trunk is applied on the effected joints before going to bed along with a soft massaging in circular motion. In the morning lukewarm water is poured on the joints. The oil is also applied on the fissured foot for 5-7 days to get relief. The oleoresin is reportedly used for treating gonorrhoea, rheumatism and as a dressing for sores of elephants.

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MESUA FERREA-NANGU (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 3.04 M; HEIGHT: 31 M; AGE ABOUT 200 YEARS, FOUND IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

A lofty, evergreen tree which grows in the Western Ghats from South Kanara to Travancore up to 1524 metres. The tree can grow over 30 metres tall and often buttressed. This is native to wet, tropical parts of Sri Lanka, Southern Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, Philippines, Malaysia and Sumatra, where this grows in evergreen forests. This is National Tree of Sri Lanka and State Flower of Tripura. This belongs to the family ‘Guttiferae’. The Trade Name is ‘The Iron Wood’. This is called ‘Suruli’, ‘Nangu’, ‘Nangil’ or ‘Nangul’ in Tamil; ‘Churuli’, ‘Vainavu’ or ‘Nangu’ in Malayalam; ‘Nagakesara’ in Telugu; ‘Nagasampege’ in Kannada and ‘Nag-champa’ in Marathi.

The wood of this tree is very heavy, hard and strong. The density is 940 to 1,195 kg/m3 at 15% moisture content. The colour is deep dark red. It is hard to saw and is mainly used for railroad ties and heavy structural timber.

In Sri Lanka the pillars of the 14th century Embekke Shrine near Kandy are made of iron tree wood. The flowers, leaves, seeds and roots are used as herbal medicines in India, Malaysia, etc.

In eastern state of Assam, India, its seeds were used for lighting purpose in evening for day to day purpose before the introduction of kerosene by the British.

The wood is classed as one of the best timbers, but it is very little used as it is hard to work with. The seeds yield an useful oil. Young trees make good walking sticks.

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PALAQUIUM ELLIPTICUM-PALI OR PALVADINTHAN (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 5.45 M; HEIGHT; 45 M; AGE ABOUT 250 YEARS IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

A lofty, evergreen tree found growing in the evergreen forests of Western Ghats between 300-1200 metres. This is endemic to Western Ghats. This belongs to the family ‘Sapotaceae’. Trees grow to a height of 35 metres with buttress. The Trade Name is ‘Pali’. This is called ‘Palvadinthan’, ‘Pali’ or ‘Palai’ in Tamil; ‘Pali’ in Malayalam; ‘Pala’ in Telugu and ‘Panchona’ in Kannada. The wood is reddish-brown, moderately hard, straight grained and splits easily. This tree flowers in December-April and bears fruits in May-August.

The wood is used for building, especially for shingles. The coagulated latex obtained from the tree is of little value.

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STERCULIA GUTTATA-THONDI (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 4.64 M; HEIGHT: 31 M; AGE ABOUT 150 YEARS-FOUND IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

A middle sized evergreen tree found growing in the evergreen forests of West Coast and hills of South India from Konkan southwards, up to 610 metres. This belongs to the family ‘Sterculiaceae’. This is known as ‘Thondi’, ‘Kawili’ or ‘Kavalam’ in Tamil; ‘Kithondi’ or ‘Kavalam’ in Malayalam and ‘Kudregonatte’ or ‘Kampirike’ in Kannada. The wood is soft, greyish white, rough and easily perishable. This tree flowers in September-February and bears fruits in June. The fibre obtained from the bark is very strong. The seeds are roasted and eaten. Wood is not of any use.

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STEROSPERMUM CHELONOIDES-PADIRI (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 4.04 M; HEIGHT: 32 M; AGE ABOUT 150 YEARS IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

A large tree found growing in deciduous forests of Western Ghats up to 900 metres. this belongs to the family ‘Bignoniaceae’. This is known as ‘Poompathiri’, ‘Padiri’, ‘Pupadiri’ and ‘Ponpadiri’ in Tamil; ‘Pisul’, ‘Tagada’ or ‘Isikirasi’ in Telugu; ‘Karingkura’ or ‘Padiri’ in Malayalam; ‘Katniruli’ or ‘Pathiri’ in Kannada and ‘Padiri’ in Hindi. Wood is greyish-brown with darker patches, coarse and hard. This tree flowers in April-June and bears fruits in November-December.

Wood is used for building, furniture, canoes, tea chests, etc. The roots, leaves and flowers have medicinal values. This is a constituent of the Dashamoola medicines. This is used for treating cancer, pain and inflammation in the body. The decoction made from the roots is given to patients with rheumatism. The ash got from burning the root and bark mixed with water and taken, can rectify the blockage in the urinary tract. The flowers are also used for worshipping in Hindu temples. Though this tree is found in the forests, this can be cultivated also.

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ALSTONIA SCHOLARIS-EZHILAIPPALAI (TAMIL NAME)-GIRTH: 5.72; HEIGHT: 40 M; AGE: 150 YEARS FOUND IN PAPANASAM RESERVED FOREST OF KMTR

This is a large, evergreen, often buttressed tree with bitter milky juice. This tree has whorled branches. Mostly this tree is found in deciduous and evergreen forests of Western Ghats. The Trade Names are ‘Shaitan Wood’, ‘Blackboard Tree’, ‘Devil Tree’, ‘Milkwood Pine’ or ‘White Cheesewood’. This is known as ‘Ezhilai-palai’, ‘Mukam-palei’ or ‘Palegaruda’ in Tamil; ‘Pala’, ‘Ezhilapala’ or ‘Mangalapala’ in Malayalam; ‘Edakula pala’ in Telugu; ‘Janthalla’ or ‘Doddapala’ in Kannada and ‘Satium’ in Hindi. This belongs to the family ‘Apocynaceae’.  Wood is white, soft, even grained, light, porous and perishable. Greenish-white coloured flowers have very unpleasant smell. This tree flowers in November-December and bears fruits in January and April-May.

On the Western Ghats, the tribal people are reluctant to sit or pass under this tree, for the fear of the devil. As the milky sap is rich in poisonous alkaloid, this tree is shunned by cattle.  Wood is used for tea chests, coffins, scabbards, blackboards, etc. Bark and leaves have medicinal values. It is used as antidote for fever, in chronic cases of diarrhoea and dysentery. The leaves are used as poultices for ulcers. In Ayurveda, it is used as an astringent herb for treating skin disorders, malaria fever, urticaria, chronic dysentery, diarrhoea and snake bite.

The authorities of the reserve can provide hoardings to these heritage trees in order to enable the college students, research scholars, nature lovers and other scientists to identify them easily and learn about these rare and threatened tree species as they are dwindling in numbers due to habitat loss and over exploitation in other parts of the state. Some of the field staff can also be trained in identifying these rare trees as they are becoming highly vulnerable and endangered. A permanent register with details of these trees with their location, etc, also can be maintained for future reference.