My Favourite Trees | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 25, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 25, 2010


My Favourite Trees

The Mohua Tree at Dharmarajika in April. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

The Dharmarajika Buddhist compound in Kamalapur is an oasis of tranquillity in our frenetic city. A large pond in the centre dominates its grounds. The pond is surrounded by schools, dormitories, offices, a prayer area, statues of the Buddha, and numerous trees. The bucolic atmosphere here turns boisterous during the Buddhist functions, including Buddha Purnima and Probarana Purnima. The former consists of religious and festive parts while the latter provides a unique opportunity to see a Fanush (lighted hot-air balloon), released after sunset.
Last year I was taking pictures at Dharmarajika when a tree covered with brilliant red leaves caught my eye. I had seen the tree earlier, but never in this form. The colours mesmerised me. A monk clad in the traditional orange clothing noticed my rapt attention. “It is a Mohua tree,” he said.
Indeed, the Mohua (Madhuca Longifolia) sprouts new red leaves in spring and summer after shedding its old leaves during the winter. Flowers and fruits follow. The beige and yellow flowers come in clusters, hanging from long stems and vaguely resembling midget betel nut clusters. While many parts of the Mohua tree are useful, its fame originates in its delicately scented flowers.
That's because indigenous people in India use the extract of Mohua flowers to make liquour.
But the Mohua tree at Dharmarajika stakes no such claim. A friendly monk tells me about the flowers. “When the tree blooms, all the monkeys in Dhaka somehow find out about it. They gather there and feast all night. You don't see them during the day, but at night the tree fills with them.”
Does the tree grow very fast? “It has looked exactly like this for the seventeen years I have been here,” he says.
And what exactly does this tree look like? Standing about sixty feet tall, its branches spread outwards and upwards, covering a radius of thirty or forty feet. If you look overhead, you can see the branches twisting and curling as they reach up to the sky. The trunk is relatively thin for its height (compared to, say, a rain-tree.) The mature green leaves are three to four inches long with a pointed tip, pronounced veins and a rough surface. The bark is about half-an inch thick and varies from brown to charcoal-black.
This Mohua tree seems to be in conflict with the adjoining school building into which it wants to send several branches. The building, of course, resists, and so both tree and building exist in an uneasy truce.
The Mohua is common in drier states of western and southern India, where oil is extracted from its seed. The extract of the flower, in addition to liquour, has medicinal value. The wood is strong. While not very common in Bangladesh, it can be found if one looks for it. I have seen Mohua trees in Ramna Park and Gulshan, but the one in Dharmarajika is certainly one of my favourite trees.

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