PLANT LIFE

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Location: Gir,Gujarat.




The Silent Superstars

For any wildlife to survive, vegetation is the prime necessity. Besides providing life-supporting oxygen to all its inhabitants, forest vegetation has multiple roles to play in respect of its wildlife. Most wildlife linkages are due to their need for food, water and shelter. Food is directly available to the herbivores, and indirectly to the carnivores. Vegetative food is available in the form of tender and mature leaves, tender twigs and bark, flowers, fruits, roots and tubers, and the whole plant.

The Benevolent Provider

Birds eat seeds, flower, nectar, fruits and even the insects visiting the flowers. The movement of Langur Monkeys mostly depends on the flowering and new flush of leaves on trees. Birds make nests of various sizes and shapes, using either leaves, twigs or grasses.

Nests are sometimes a piece of art. Take the case of the Baya Weaver Bird that weaves one of the most intricate nests, or the nest made by the Tailor Bird, which stitches leaves together to form a sort of a cup. Smaller animals like the Monitor Lizard, the Mongoose or the Civets find shelter in hollow trees, while birds like the Owls and the Barbet make nests by making a hole in a tree.

Lions use vegetation extensively for rest, courtship, mating and giving birth. For these activities the Lions use the Karamda shrubs. Herbivores like Chital and Sambar rest under Banyan or Khakhro during their afternoon siesta. Lions often mark shrubs and trees on the periphery of their home range as 'scent posts'. Heavy ground cover is useful for animals going to a water hole.

Trees in full bloom bring large number of birds. Fruiting on Pipal and Umbro has been known to bring more than 40 kinds of birds. In case of wild ungulates, birth of fawns is timed with new flush of grass, immediately with the onset of rains. We may think the big predators as the superstars of the forest, but it is the humble plants that make all the diversity possible.

Plants are the real, but silent superstars of any ecosystem. Here's a glimpse into some of the varieties that give Gir its flavour. Flame of the Forest in Gir National Park - Gujarat

FLAME OF THE FOREST

Butea is named after botanist John Stuart, who was the Earl of Bute; and Monosperma means one seed. The battlefield of Plassey is said to have taken its name from the Palas tree. The wood resembles teak and hence the English call it bastard Teak!

In semi arid areas, when the entire landscape becomes devoid of any colour in the summer, the flaming orange flowers create an impression of patches of fire, and hence the name 'Flame Of The Forest'.

BANYAN

'Ficus' is the Latin name of the fig tree, and Benghalensis refers to Bengal. This evergreen tree has aerial roots, which descend from branches to enter the ground, and thicken to become trunk like over a period of time.

The figs provide food to a variety of animals, especially birds, who return the fagour by propagating the seeds far and wide. Banyan and other fig trees begin life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another without being parasitic on it) growing from seeds dropped by birds. They may strangle the host tree, but the two can co exist for a long time. The Banyan is sacred to the Hindus and is often planted near temples. Leaves are used as fodder for camels and elephants. The milky latex is believed to be a cure for rheumatism. Flowers: March To April Fruits: April To June And October To November. Neem in Gir National Park - Gujarat

Some Peculiar Uses

The tree is a host for the Lac insect from which the valuable lac is harvested. The tree is frost hardy and drought resistant and is extensively planted for aforestation of saline lands. The bark is used in tanning, the leaves are made into plates, the flowers yield a dye, the seeds yield a clear oil and the root fibre is used for making ropes. In ancient India, the flowers were used for auspicious markings (tilak) and colour for the Holi festival was made from the dye extracted from the flowers.

Flowers: February To march.
Fruits: Pods Ripen In May To June.

NEEM

Derived from Persian 'Azad Darakht' meaning a noble tree, and Indica refers to its Indian origin. This incredible tree can be called nature's pharmacy because every part yields countless medicinal substances of immense value. Today, it is much sought after internationally for alternative theraptic.

The Neem is an excellent shade tree and owing to its large leaf area, it gives out more oxygen than most other trees. Deep rooted, the neem is specially suited to dry areas as it consumes very little water.

Flowers: March To July
Fruits: Ripens June To August

PEEPAL

'Ficus' in Latin means the Fig, and religious means pertaining to religion because the tree is sacred to the Hindus and the Buddhists. This is the tree under which Buddha received enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, hence it is also called "the Bodhi Tree". Each species of ficus has its particular insect. Smaller the figs smaller the insects. Figs of Peepal are much sought after by birds as well as Monkeys. The Peepal is a tree with long life. A tree in Sri Lanka is reported to be over 2,200 years old.

Flowers: March To April
Fruits: Ripen In April, Also In October To November. Siris in Gir National Park - Gujarat

SIRIS

'Albizia' is named after Albizzi, an Italian naturalist, and Lebbeck after a place in Egypt where it was regularly planted as an avenue tree. This is a fast growing deciduous tree that grows 15 to 20m tall. The creamy yellow flowers are highly fragrant. This is also a very important tree in arid regions as it yields fodder for camels and cattle. The tree is drought resistant, fixes nitrogen in the soil, and provides fuel wood. It is extensively used for aforestation of degraded lands.

Flowers: April To May.
Fruits: Ripen In September

RED SILK COTTON TREE

Tamarind in Gir National Park - Gujarat

One of the most beautiful trees of India, the Silk Cotton is a fast growing tree and grows up to 40m. The large flowers are brilliant Crimson and hold so much nectar that birds and insects coverage on it throughout the day in large numbers. A bird watcher will rightly call this tree a 'One Tree Sanctuary'!

Flowers: January To March
Fruits: Ripens April To May.

TAMARIND

'Tamarindus' is derived from the Persian Tamar I Hind, meaning India Date, and Indica refers to its Indian origin. This majestic evergreen tree has a dome shaped crown up to 30m and can reach a girth of around 5m. The seeds pass through the digestive tracts of birds and animals and sprout easily in all nooks and corners. Pulp from the pods is used to season curries and chutneys.

Flowers: Small Pink And Creay Scented Flowers In May To June But Inconspicuous Amongst The Foliage.
Fruits: March To April, 10 To 11 Months After Flowering.

Jhingan Or Wodier Wood

This is small to medium sized deciduous tree with a greyish bark that one will find peeling off in thin round plates. Leaves are long and flowers are yellowish green. The tree is leafless from November to May and the leaves turn yellow before falling. New leaves arrive in May to June. Fruits are eaten by the crows who swallow the pulp and help dispersal of the seed. The leaves of the tree are used as fodder for cattle.

Flowers: February
Fruits: Ripens May To July

TEAK

Teak in Gir National Park - Gujarat

'Tectona' is derived from "Tekka", the vernacular name for Teak in Kerala, and 'Grandis' refers to its grandeur. The wood of the tree is long lasting because it contains a resin, which preserves and protects it from attacks by Fungi, Termites and other harmful insects. Havelis, temples, palaces and ships made from teak have survived centuries. Good quality teak is mainly found in the protected forests area of central, western and southern India.

Flowers: Whitish, June To August.
Fruits: November To January

Jamun Or Black Plum

This is a medium sized evergreen (trees that remain green throughout the year) tree with a dense shady crown. Flowers are small and greenish white, fragrant and appear from the twigs below the leaves. The famous purplish black fruit with a juicy pulp contains a single seed. Fruits are consumed by Flying Foxes and a variety of birds and thus the seeds are dispersed to far away places.

Flowers: March To May
Fruits: Ripens June To August Karaya in Gir National Park - Gujarat

KARAYA

Sterculia comes from "Sterculius", a God of Roman mythology, derived from Stercus, meaning Dung. This is so because the Romans are believed to have deified the very objects they disliked! The bark of this tree exudes a white gum called 'Karaya' which is used in cosmetic and in thickening ice cream, and hence its common name.

Flowers: January
Fruits: April To May.

LAUREL OR SAJAD

Laurel in Gir National Park - Gujarat

This is a large deciduous (any tree that loses its leaves at a certain time each year and later grows nes leaves) tree with dark grey furrowed bark peeling off in rectangular flakes. Its wood is considered so good that it is used for decorative paneling, high-class furniture and cabinetwork. The wood is dark brown streaked with black and is also good for use in buildings.

Flowers: July To August
Fruits: February

Bael Tree Or Golden Apple

A small to medium sized deciduous tree with 1 to 3 cm on spines that makes identification easy. The tree always look strikingly beautiful on account of its bright green foliage and yellow fruits. The wood is also strongly aromatic. The flowers of the tree attract a lot of Honey Bees and the fruits are eaten by Deer, Boars and Monkeys that eat the pulp and help in dispersal of the seeds.

Flowers: March To July
Fruits: Ripens January To June

Salai Or Incense Tree

Salai in Gir National Park - Gujarat

This is a moderate sized deciduous tree up to 9 to 15m in height and has a spreading crown. The flowers of the tree are white and the fruit contains three seeds. Porcupines are known to damage the bark as they gnaw at it and boars dig out seedlings. The tree gets its common name from a yellowish green gum, which has a pleasant smell when burnt.

Flowers: February To April
Fruits: Ripens May To June

Pala Indigo Or Dudhalo

This is a small to medium sized tree that grows to a height of nearly 7m. The trunk and branches are irregularly shaped and has a smooth and scaly bark. The leaves secrete a milky substance and hence it is locally known as 'Dudhalo' in Gujarat. Flowers are white and fragrant. A Pari of drooping, green, cylindrical pod like fruit grows to 0.25 to 0.50m long.

Flowers: March to May