Old tree

Trees are fun. Before I started looking at birds, insects, and wildflowers, I was looking at trees. They are enormously interesting, both as individuals, and collectively. As individuals, I love their symmetric growth in the wild, as opposed to the stunted shapes many adopt in cities. These are aspects of their adaptability. When I saw this one in the buffer area outside Pench national park, I first noticed the spread and near-symmetry of its canopy. Then I noticed how the two lowest branches had grown almost parallel to the ground before shooting up vertically, to give the canopy space to grow. The next two start out at right angles to the first pair, again branching out horizontally before growing up. Everything seemed planned for the eventual growth of the canopy.

The old photo gave me an opportunity to play with monochrome images; first the simple black and white, and next the one with inverted shades. This second one shows the branching structure very nicely. Unfortunately, the shape does not really help too much with tree identification. When I see plants with complex flowers, I know they are related; all of them are in the Aster family, Asteraceae. But the three tall spreading trees, mango, jamun, and neem are in three different families. Strangely, a close relative of the mango is the poison ivy. So trees have evolved many times over in different families of plants. So woodiness, longevity, the lack of distinction between seed and soma (trees can be grafted on to each other) are characteristics that can evolve easily in plants, and have evolved in concert many times over.

I played a little with other effects and liked the “pencil sketch” in muted colours on the left, and the “charcoal sketch” on the right. I only use an open source editor, but these are effects which are easy to obtain. A nice thing about this mahua (Madhuca longifolia) tree was that it stood alone, well away from any other tall thing. It was lucky. Trees grow tall because of competition for sunlight, and here this was, with genes which allowed it to grow tall without any competition. It takes time for trees to grow, to produce the mass of wood in the trunk and branches which would support dependent branches and leaves. Mango is productive for more than a century and mahua tree for 60 years or so. So the amount of seed produced more than compensates for the energy spend in non-reproductive maintenance. That’s a strong reason for plants to become trees. I wonder why more of them don’t.

A better botanist?

Speeding through the jungle of Kanha NP, my eyes were caught by the many flowering trees. At one point I called a halt and took some photos. Our driver and guide were feeling bad for us because this was our last drive, and we hadn’t seen a tiger. They take it pretty personally. After the surfeit of tigers in Corbett, I wasn’t down in the dumps about it. So I started a conversation about trees and flowers, thinking it would cheer them up. It does usually, because they know many more of the plants than city people like us do.

In passing I wasn’t sure whether the tree was flowering or had berries. When we stopped and backed up I saw that they were buds. The yellow-orange colour was quite eye catching, but most of the buds were still not open. So I could not really see the shape of the flowers. I think these will become five-petaled flowers when they open up, but not seeing an open flower got rid of my main method of identifying the tree. The driver and the guide conferred and came to the conclusion that this was a tree whose leaves could be used on a wound. But that was all the information they had.

To a better botanist the leaf shape might be enough to yield an identification. I remembered to take a photo of the leaves: palmate, entire, emarginate. I know the words, but they are just words to me, not keys to understanding the world. It could be a bauhinia, but this genus has spectacular orchid-like five-petaled flowers. Could these buds open up into something like that? A better botanist would be able to give an answer.

On second thoughts, I might have been confused by the way the trees grew cheek to jowl. If I look at the leaves on the flowering branch, they are pinnate (also entire, acute, and possibly emarginate). On looking at the photos, it seems possible that the flowering branches were poking through a bauhinia towards the sun, but belonged to a different tree altogether. It would make sense, since the guide and the driver knew about bauhinias and their many uses, but were a little unsure about the flowering tree.

Monsoon in Kolkata

I had to make a quick trip to Kolkata on work. The traffic is always bad in Kolkata, so it is never easy to make a quick side trip to a tourist spot. Right now, Kolkata is in the grip of the monsoon, and the traffic is a little more difficult than normal. So I just drove between the airport, hotel and work.

But then, Kolkata is a city where you are always in the thick of things. I found myself too slow to draw the camera on the road. However, from my temporary office I looked out on a sea of green treetops. They present a lovely picture in the monsoon, as you can see from one example above. I’m afraid I can’t identify this tree.