Society for Conservation of Nature

SLEEPING GIANTS OF SIVAGANGAI

SLEEPING GIANTS OF SIVAGANGAI

7e7f9cad-cb6e-4f98-b076-69e751b8069f

ADANSONIA DIGITATA-ANAI PULIA MARAM OR PONTHAAM PULI-FOUND IN VEDHIYARENTHAL DHARMAMUNISHWARAR TEMPLE NEAR MANAMADURAI OF SIVAGANGAI DISTRICT-THE TREE FOUND ON THE LEFT SIDE IS THE GROWTH OF A BRANCH

ef20bffa-776c-4abd-bf04-4dfa9dbc91ac (1)

THOUGH THE TREE HAS BECOME A VICTIM OF NATURAL DISASTER CENTURIES BACK, IT HAS SURVIVED WITH ITS BRANCHES AND NEW GROWTH

7eafa95d-e7f6-48dd-866c-ab4c654ed733

THOUGH NATURE HAS ATTEMPTED TO UPROOT THE TREE, IT HAS SURVIVED BECAUSE OF THE MERCY OF LORD DHARMAMUNISHWARAR FROM THE RUTHLESS AXE OF WOOD CUTTERS

0d22448c-f6e7-4d30-955d-289e526b42d8

THE ANCIENTNESS OF THE TREE IS QUITE VISIBLE FROM THE PICTURE TAKEN WITH NEW BRANCHES AND LUXURIENT SHOOTS, DESPITE THE DAMAGE CAUSED BY NATURE

a0a53e6c-11ff-4670-8059-836f12e3fac7

THE PHOTO SPEAKS ABOUT THE AGE OF THE TREE WHICH HAS BEEN MADE TO EMBRACE THE MOTHER EARTH INSTEAD OF STANDING ERECT DUE TO THE NATURAL DISASTER CENTURIES BACK

Though Tamil Nadu state has about 17.59% of area under forests, the district Sivagangai is unfortunate to have a meagre of about 7.64% forest cover presently. According to the old records, the dense forest areas once occupied the district had been ravaged by the British while they attempted to capture the great Maruthu brothers.  In spite of the sparse growth of forest, the district is bestowed with certain rare and endangered tree species like Adansonia digitata, Manilkara hexandra, Spondias indica, etc. One age old Manilkara hexandra tree is found well protected near Karaikudi. The tree Spondias indica is located within the premises of the Railway Office close to the Sivagangai Railway Station. There were three African Baobab trees in the district some time back. But presently only the trees which are found growing in Vedhiyarendal near Manamadurai are well protected, that too because of the sanctity attached to the Village Deity Dharmamunishwarar. The other one tree found on the bund of Ponnakulam Kanmai has vanished in recent years. The two sleeping giants at Vedhiyarendal are assessed to be about 500 years old. The two trees of the same species might have fallen due to some natural disaster centuries back. But as they are considered to be the toughest warriors who can survive the odds, the trees have survived now and a branch of a tree also has grown vertically to a height of 12 metres. The girths of the trees vary from 6 to 7.8 metres. The ancientness of the trees can be easily identified by watching the photos. The trees have spread over and covered an area of about 6000 square feet. Thanks to Lord Munishwarar for protecting the Organic Monuments.

There is a mention about the Baobab tree in Chapter 15 of the Bhagvad Gita. Though it is mentioned as banyan tree, the ‘Upside-down’ nature of its character strongly confirms that it is only the Baobab. When Lord Krishna talks about the Yoga of the Supreme Person, he said, “It is said that there is an imperishable banyan tree that has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas”.  The statement shows the ancientness of the Baobab tree in India.

The majestic African Baobab is one of the longest living and the largest trees in the world. It is one of the most amazing trees. This belongs to the family ‘Bombacaceae’. The native tree species of African continent dominates the dry, hot savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. The tree is valued as a source of food, water, medicine and place of shelter. This is a rare tree in India and one is amazed by the stupendous grandeur of this mighty monarch with its extraordinary size and girth. The scientific name is Adansonia digitata. The common names are Dead-rat-tree (probably derived from the appearance of the fruit), Monkey-bread tree (the soft, dry fruit is edible), Upside-down tree (the sparse branches resemble roots) and Cream of tartar tree (cream of tartar). The common Indian names are Kalpataru, Kamalpati Vruksh, Rukhdo, Ghelo, Gorakh Imli (Hindi), Gorakh chinch (Marathi), Bukha (Gujarati), Brahmaamlika (Telugu), Gadhagachh (Bengali), Sarpadandi (Sanskrit) and Pondam Puli or Anai Puliamaram in Tamil.

The vernacular name ‘Baobab’ derived from Arabic means ‘father of many seeds’. The scientific name Adansonia honours the French explorer and botanist, Michel Adanson who identified the specimen in 1749 in Senegal. ‘Digitata’ refers to the digits of the hand. The compound leaves with five leaflets (sometimes up to seven) are similar to a hand. There are 8 species of the genus Adansonia. Baobab, a deciduous tree is a native of Madagascar (6 species), Africa (1 species) and Australia (1 species).  Baobab trees generally grow as solitary individuals in savannah and scrub land. They are known for living over thousand years. The tree is deciduous in nature shedding their leaves during the dry season and remains leafless for nine months in a year. It grows to a  height of 25 metres and 7 metres diameter. The span of the roots exceeding the tree’s height enables the tree to survive even in dry climatic condition. The tree is called ‘Upside-down tree’ as the trunk looks like a taproot and the branches are similar to finer capillary roots. The sliver or grey coloured cork like bark is fire resistant. The white, pendulous, and showy flowers are very large in size. The flowers bloom at dusk and wilt by dawn. While the flowers have a sweet scent initially, release a foul smell later when they turn brown. The flowers usually fall after 24 hours. Fruit bats pollinate the flowers primarily. The kidney shaped seeds are hard and black in colour.

Though this tree is native to Africa, it is also found in India, especially in dry regions and in Penang, Malaysia along a few streets. The tree is sensitive to water logging and frost. Its fruit contains calcium, vitamin C and high in antioxidants. The dry pulp is eaten fresh and dissolved in milk or water to prepare a beverage. The leaves are edible. The seed oil is used for cooking. In certain parts of Africa, the people soak and dissolve the dry pulp of the fruit and make juice. Elephants feed on the juicy wood below its bark. Animals like elephants, rhinoceros and baboons help for the dispersal of the seeds. Baobab tree as it grows mostly in isolation attracts visitors due to the age, size, shape and extraordinary girth.

Baobab tree is familiar in India for the past many centuries. It is believed that the African Traders had introduced the tree into our country. The trunk is known for storing large quantity of water. The gigantic trees are known for storing water up to 1,20,000 litres inside the swollen trunks to overcome the harsh drought conditions. In certain cases, the people use the hollow trunks of the living trees as houses. The trees may reach an age of over 5000 years.

Baobab is considered to be the toughest warrior as it can survive the odds. It can be burnt or stripped of its bark or uprooted by storm. But it will just form a new bark and continue to grow. When it dies, it rots from inside and suddenly collapse into a heap of fibres. That is why people think that the tree does not die but simply disappears. These characteristic characters make it a magic tree.

The African natives consider the Baobab as a sacred tree, because of its exceptional vitality. There is a popular myth among the African people that if any prayer is done in front of the tree, the wishes would be fulfilled. A well-grown Baobab is capable of creating its own ecosystem supporting numerous creatures. Almost every part of the tree has medicinal value. The leaves rich in calcium, iron, proteins and lipid are used to cure inflammation. Its dried leaf powder is used to treat anaemia, asthma, rachitis, dysentery and rheumatism. Its fruit pulp is known for curing dysentery, small pox and measles. The fibre obtained from the bark is used for making rope, cloth, mats, baskets and paper. The seeds with vegetable oil can be grilled and eaten.

The sight of the rare tree species may be something amazing for a Naturalist, Botanist, Ecologist, Scientist, Forester, Horticulturist and even for a common man who has got the real attachment towards nature. So, it is the duty of everyone to protect such Living Monuments as they create a unique ecosystem providing shelter to numerous creatures, releasing oxygen, sequestering carbon di oxide, harvesting rain water, conserving soil and supplying medicines for our ailments. The whole area at Vedhiyarendal with the spread of the trees including the idol of the deity Munishwarar can be declared as a protected area by providing suitable fencing in consultation with the local body and temple authorities. Necessary hoardings can be erected in order to generate awareness among the people and other visitors about preserving such heritage trees. The Forest Department can play a lead role with the support of the Collector and declare the area as protected one with the idea of conserving such rare and monumental tree species.

Heritage Tree Conservation Centre (HTCC) can be established in every district with the view of conserving the Heritage Tree identified in the districts. This will definitely help in creating the necessary awareness to increase the tree cover throughout the state when there is not much scope for expanding the forest cover due to non availability of the required land. The tree cover expansion can be achieved only with the wholehearted involvement and support of the land holders especially in the rural areas. Unless we have one third of the land area under forest and tree cover, we can’t attain economic stability. So, in order to have sustained economy and to get all our basic requirements fulfilled without any difficulty, the forest and tree cover has to be increased and the establishment of such HTCC may be of great support in achieving the desirable target.  Therefore, it is high time that the authorities concerned should rise up to the occasion to take earnest measures to protect such Living Fossils not only for the present generation but also for the posterity.

V.Sundararaju.IFS,

Former Deputy Conservator of Forests.  President, Society for Conservation of Nature (SOFCON),

Trichy-17.