[Using the occasion of the second tree festival – Neralu – in Bangalore to write another post on trees.]
The tree shoots up at an angle, almost leaning forward into the road away from the house, before it hits a kind of landing from where it branches away further into the road. There used to be a smaller branch in the direction of the house, but that got cut during the construction. Now it only leans to the front towards the road. On the opposite side is another tree of the same kind, much taller than this one, but shaped like a Y. One straight branch shooting up to 4-5ft and then branching away in the form of a ‘Y’. The yawning gap between the two halves of the tree sees power cables from BESCOM passing through, suspiciously, making you wonder if it is indeed its natural shape – it isn’t. One half branches over the empty site opposite the house and the other leans over the road. Together, this tree and the one in front of the house form an arch over the road, laying a perennial carpet of shade on the road.
The Millettia pinnata, also known as Pongaemia pinnata, and more commonly as Honge (ಹೊಂಗೆ) is native to India, China, Japan, Australia and other Pacific islands. It is increasingly becoming common in Bangalore as the more recent tree planting efforts have put this tree at the top of the list. Unlike trees like the Gulmohar, the branches don’t break so easily. Compared to non-native trees like Eucalyptus it is not invasive in the way it uses up ground water.
When I bought the car and realised that there wasn’t space for both the car and the bike inside the portico, I started parking the car outside the house, under the tree. The shade was definitely useful in keeping the car cool and good. But parking the car under the tree gave me an education on the tree’s life cycle and its reactions to different seasons.
The onset of Winter, around November, sees the tree lose its leaves, at least most of them. It is a daily chore to remove them from the nooks and crannies of the car. It doesn’t get to the state of trees in temperate zones which lose all their leaves, but at least 50-60% of the leaves will be gone, and the rest would be hanging around old, torn and hoping to be left off. The roads in the area are all filled up with leaves and it is a common sight to see people collecting them and burning them off. When the recent Swacch Bharat campaign caught people’s fancy, these leaves provided good photo-ops for local big shots to sweep and pose. They then set them on fire in front of my house while one enterprising Khaki short wanted to burn a discarded Thermocol piece on top of that fire, before I asked him if it might be a better idea to attempt that in front of his house rather than mine.
By around February, the trees wear a forlorn look. It is also the time when many of the pods with seeds start falling down, and again get to the nooks and crannies of the car. These seeds are used to produce seed oil and it isn’t uncommon to see women picking them up and collecting them in bags.
But the best season for these trees is March when the leaves start sprouting and the trees soon sport a dense light-green canopy. Within a month white flowers start appearing all over the tree and the flowers soon attract swarms of bees. The tree literally buzzes with activity with bees all over the tree. For the car, this means thousands of flowers all over the nooks and crannies. Not something I enjoy removing, it makes more sense to cover the car when not in use. The roads, however, sport a nice thin carpet of these white flowers. And sometimes bees buzzing by them at a lower level. So it isn’t uncommon to see people walking barefoot getting stung! Over May/June the flowers go off leaving seed pods and the leaves turn a darker green which they retain till the onset of Winter.
The trunk and branches sometimes also start oozing a thick gooey resin which drops all around the tree. Sometimes, it solidifies on the tree, powders and you have a light-brown powder all around the tree. The resin doesn’t seem to be acidic or anything and is easy to clean up. This juice/resin is supposed to be antiseptic and resistant to pests. So maybe it is its reaction to attack from some pests.
The tree in front is marked with scratch marks as I put the cat on top of the ‘landing’ where she uses the tree as a scratch pole and claws away at the tree. Sometimes she climbs up to scratch at different locations. A squirrel or a reachable bird’s nest are also hunted down for food.
The best thing about having a tree in front, apart from the shade, is the birds. Prinias – Ashy and plain, purple sunbirds, great tits and Red-whiskered bulbuls are very common on the tree. So most sleepy summer afternoons also include these birds singing away to complete the picture of tranquility.
Being fast-growing, these Honge trees are increasingly being preferred in newer areas. Given their multiple uses and easy maintenance without affecting other trees, it is a good thing. More than anything, the fact that they are native is itself a major plus.