The Jungle Trees Of Central India

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Jungle Trees
Central India
a field guide
Pradip Krishen





What is a Tree?


Tree Names


The Parts of a Tree


How to Use This Book


The Leaf Scheme


Central India as a Habitat for Trees


Central India’s Natural Ecology


Central India’s Natural Habitats


What exactly Defines Central India?


Central India Over the Years


British India


Deforestation of Central India


Tree-Spotting in Central India


Flower Key


Fruit Key


Bark Key


tree guide

1. Simple Untoothed Leaf


2. Simple Toothed Leaf


3. Lobed Leaf


4. Digitate Leaf


5. Pinnate Leaf


6. Bipinnate Leaf


Back of the Book




back of the book

Relating to the Character, Uses or Distribution of Trees


Relating to the Identity, Taxonomy or Name of a Tree


Name of a Tree


Family Names


List of Species






Leaves unipinnate compound

unipinnate leaves widest near the middle

The first rains in the jungle spark off a few frenetic weeks when hill people collect ripe mangoes for sale to the pickling industry. Bears, monkeys and flying foxes compete with humans for the fruit. In traditional systems of medicine, the unripe fruit (roasted, pulverized, shredded) is credited with curintomach ailments, heatcoarse-grained and difficult tents.

apex blunt

kuda 45-50 cm

dhaman 45-50 cm amaltas 45-50 cm

bharanga 45-50 cm 182

dhaman 45-50 cm bhirra 45-50 cm

the jungle trees of central india

kari 45-50 cm dhaman 45-50 cm

amaltas 45-50 cm

kuda 45-50 cm

10 stamens shorter than petals

bharanga 45-50 cm

dhaman 45-50 cm

kari 45-50 cm

bharanga 45-50 cm

kuda 45-50 cm

kuda 45-50 cm
midrib divides leaflet unequally
bhirra 45-50 cm

amaltas 45-50 cm
bhirra 45-50 cm 183


kahua K’H-oo-ah
kahu • kooa • aajan • arjun | tropical/malabar almond • arjun

Terminalia arjuna


Combretaceae - Terminalia family

SEASONs : Leaves are evergreen in damp places, otherwise are shed in March or early April and then quickly renewed. Flowers in AprilMay, appearing soon after the new leaves. Fruit ripen between March and May, nearly a full year after the flowers have been fertilized

Kahua trees grow majestically tall along riverbanks in C India, with characteristically pale, smooth bark and handsome crowns with long, drooping extremities. The bases of their massive, bony trunks are often buttressed. Along with two species of jamuns, this is the classic riverside tree of the region, with a spreading root system superbly fitted to survive turbulent inundations in the rainy season. Because they nearly always grow close to water, kahuas don’t need to shed their leaves for any length of time. Another effect of being riverside trees is that their range is not limited in C India by rainfall regime or climate. Outside our region, kahua is found naturally east to Myanmar and southwards through the peninsula into Sri Lanka.

apex blunt or only slightly pointed

kahua is specially adapted to grow along riverbanks

leaves more or less in opposite pairs
bark smooth, green when freshly exposed, becoming pale grey or pinkish-brown, flaking off in thin patches
leaves are leathery and more or less smooth when mature, up to 22cm long on short stalks; base shallowly heart-shaped, margins sometimes very finely toothed; 2 glands on the underside, near the top of the leaf-stalk
flowers are yellowish, cup-shaped, only about 4mm wide, arranged in crowded spikes about 8cm long; no petals; 10 stamens arising from a densely hairy disc
fruit is a brown woody nut about 5cm long, with 5-7 broad wings marked with close-set veins

Kahua trees are highly rated as medicinal ‘factories’. Their astringent bark in particular is rich in tannins, glycosides, flavonoids and minerals and is used in powdered form in the treatment of cardio-vascular ailments including ischaemic heart disease, angina and hypertension. It is also used to treat dysentery, venereal and urogenital complaints, earaches, asthma and disorders of the bile duct. Kahua bark extract is employed to alleviate the pain of scorpion stings and as an aphrodisiac. The bark is also a source of a traditional khaki dye and tanning agent. Tussar silkworms are reared on a diet of kahua leaves. The heartwood is dark brown and streaked but the wood is not considered very useful because of its tendency to split during seasoning.

5 longer stamens alternate with 5 shorter ones

cup-shaped calyx has 5 pointy lobes

wings are marked with close-set veins
bark (LEFT) flaking off to reveal green underbark Knob-shaped glands (BELOW LEFT) near the top of the leaf-stalk. If you look closely at the leaf margin (BELOW RIGHT), you can see tiny, rounded teeth



simple untoothed leaves

kair kerr
kareel • kareer • dhalu

Capparis decidua
315 Capparaceae - Caper family
SEASONs : Leaves absent most of the time. New leaves appear only fleetingly in March or April. Flowers in late March, usually once more after the rains in AugustSeptember. Fruit ripen quickly after flowering, usually in April-May and again in October-November

You are much more likely to see kair as a stiff, spiny bush but it sometimes grows into a distinctive small tree with a characteristic mop of trailing green, leafless branchlets. It has beautiful orange-red flowers and bright pink fruit that are pickled, cooked as a vegetable and used medicinally. In C India, kair is found only in the W and NW fringe where it colonises dry, exposed, rocky hillsides that other plants avoid. It is much more at home in the western desert regions of India and Pakistan, stretching across the arid lands in the west to the sandy wastes of N Africa. Kair owes its success in arid environments to a formidable root system that reaches deep down in search of moisture. It is equally at home in rocky terraces and deep sand.

jungle trees of central india

thhaur THH-awr
thhavar • sehra • kangali • katmauli | roxburgh’s bauhinia

Bauhinia roxburghiana 315
Caesalpinioideae - Cassia subfamily
SEASONs : LEAVES begin to blacken and fall late in March but trees are never quite leafless. New leaves emerge in May, resplendent by June. FLOWERS in October-November. FRUIT pods form quickly, becoming pink and then a deeper colour as they ripen in March or early April

Thhaur is among the most beautiful jungle trees especially when it renews its lovely foliage before the rains and again when its canopy looks dusted with a myriad small white flowers in October. Thhaur has a limited distribution in our region and is prominent in the hills of the Banjar Valley in and around Kanha Tiger Reserve. It shows a distinct preference for well-drained sites with plenty of moisture but curiously is absent from the W Satpuras which meets this requirement. It is more common in high-rainfall areas to the W and S of C India, suggesting that the Kanha landscape lies at the cusp of its distribution in this part of the subcontinent. It is also found all across the base of the Himalaya from Pakistan to Bengal. It is not much used.

Kair in flower in August
(Below) Note the bonnet-like outer sepal of the flower and the long red filaments

ovary at the end of a stalk


kair’s astringent fruit are cooked or pickled and are also collected and dried for their medicinal value
fleshy leaves are less than 15mm long and deeply grooved along the midrib
bark grey-brown or pale brown, deeply furrowed and corky SPINES in pairs, short, slightly curved, yellowish or red LEAVES on young shoots only for a short time; small, narrow and fleshy flowers in lovely clusters, pink, brick-red or orange-brown; sepals unequal, 4 narrow petals; the green ovary protrudes beyond the stamens at the end of a long stalk fruit pink or tinged purple, slightly smaller than a grape, with a grapelike bloom on the skin that rubs off

Flowers in ample, terminal clusters towards the top

slight notch at apex

pointy at both ends

thhaur can grow to about 10 or 12m high purple veins

bark dark with a rusty tinge, lifting off in thin strips; usually but not always fissured
leaves distinctive, blade about 12cm long, usually broader than long, with 9-11 nerves starting from a shallowly heart-shaped base; blunt or only slightly notched at the apex; leaf-stalks long
flowers about 24mm wide, in large, loose clusters at the ends of twigs mostly towards the top of the tree; petals 5, white or creamish with veins pricked out in dark purple; only 3 perfect stamens
fruit about 14cm long, flat, hard, usually broader towards the apex; rich, fulvous red-brown when ripe

simple untoothed leaves

mahua M’H-wah
mahula • maul • mohu • irku | mowra buttertree • honey tree

Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia
Sapotaceae – Chikoo family 315
SEASONs : LEAVES begin to go yellow and fall late in February. New leaves emerge after the flowers, dusty pink at first, usually in April or, in dry areas, in June. FLOWERS for about 3 weeks between late February and end-April. FRUIT ripen between June and August

If there’s a single emblematic tree of C India’s jungles then it is surely this one! Even when jungle is cleared for farming, you will see mahuas as the only trees left standing because they are far too precious to be felled. Their value chiefly lies in the juicy, creamy-white flowers that drop from the tree before dawn and are gathered up and fermented to make a popular country liquor but also as food. Mahua trees look loveliest when their leaves emerge dusty pink and then slowly turn through tints of red and brown before settling into midnight green. Mahuas are a little thin in the drier, NW part of C India but define the landscape as one approaches the Vindhyan and Satpura hills. They extend a short way into Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

Mahua trees will grow on stony ground but do best on deep, loamy soils with good drainage where they can grow to 18m or even more

bark medium brown with shallow wrinkles and fissures, exuding milky sap if scored or injured; older trees may have distinctly scabby bark
leaves 13-25cm long, clustered at the ends of twigs and arranged more or less in a spiral; tips broadly rounded with a short point and narrow base; softly woolly and deep pink at first, becoming dark, firm and smooth; leaf-stalks 2-4cm long
flowers creamy white in dense clusters at the ends of twigs, on stalks about 3cm long; the petals are fused to form a fleshy, succulent tube; about 25 stamens on the inside of the petals; a long style protrudes through the mouth of the tube; flowers have a distinctive, nutty smell
fruit up to 5cm long, fleshy, green with a velvety coat when young, ripening rusty or orange; 1-4 seeds inside; the long, thin style usually persists at the apex

Fused petals form a succulent tube that falls off the twig, leaving the style behind the Leaves (LEFT) tend to be prominently clustered at the ends of twigs

velvety calyx

The mahua tree is a critically important source of nutrition for millions of India’s poorest tribal people. A mature tree can produce up to 300kg of flowers in a season. Individual jungle trees known to be bountiful are staked out and ‘claimed’ by tying a piece of cloth to one of their branches. The flowers begin to drop just before dawn in March and April and are gathered off the ground with intense competition from jungle creatures. The flowers are eaten raw or after sun-drying and most rural households squirrel away a cache of flowers which are fermented to make a coarse, strong-smelling country liquor. Seeds from the fruit yield a clear, greenish-yellow oil used for cooking and lighting in oillamps and also reputed to cure rheumatism and skin ailments. The oil-cake left behind is used as a detergent, manure, vermicide and to poison fish. The dark reddish-brown heartwood is extremely hard, handsome and much prized but mahua trees are too valuable to be felled for their timber.

style Dried mahua flowers on sale in a village market

remains of the style

Collecting mahua flowers at dawn

simple untoothed leaves
mahua reds I could think of no way of depicting the subtle shades of mahua’s
new foliage in the compass of a single spread. Here is a sampling palette of the russet tones of this most beautiful of trees.

jungle trees of central india

simple untoothed leaves

son pakhad sohn PAH-kh’d
katbar • katbaddh • chitakar | donkey’s banyan

Ficus mollis
315 Moraceae - Fig family
SEASONs : Leaves are reported to be evergreen but the tree is not seen to behave like this in our region. It starts to shed leaves by December and is usually bare by the end of March. Leaves are renewed in late May. figs ripen in March and May, so there may be two or more flushes

Like gadasi, son pakhad is a fig-tree that colonizes bare rock with remarkable aplomb. Its pale, smooth trunk and the rusty woolliness on the undersides of its leaves and twigs are useful clues to its identity. Son pakhad can grow impressively large with a broad, shady crown but you can also encounter it as a self-effacing, small tree. It sports small aerial roots which seldom reach the ground and sends an array of surface-roots ranging far from its base searching for moisture. Son pakhad inhabits dry sites and seems to tolerate drier conditions than gadasi does. It is more common in the drier, western part of our region, in Bundelkhand and on south-facing slopes of the Satpuras. Its range extends into the Deccan and Sri Lanka.

Son pakhad’s figs are reported to be edible and are greedily eaten by monkeys, sloth bears, cheetal and birds like barbets and hornbills. I found no instances of any part of this tree figuring among folk remedies but there is recent pharmacological interest in its leaves which are thought to have properties which prevent damage to the liver.

jungle trees of central india
The ability of its versatile roots to wander over rock and find purchase in the soil are the secret of son pakhad’s success in colonizing rocky areas

leaf-buds protect the young leaf and fall off when the leaf unfurls. Son pakhad’s leaf-buds have unusually long, rusty hairs

(ABOVE LEFT) Look for a prominent, smooth, green gland on the undersurface, at the junction of the principal nerves. (RIGHT) The pale rusty hairs on the underside of new leaves probably give the son (golden) pakhad its name


lobes of base very tight, sometimes overlapping

apical scales

(ABOVE LEFT) You are most likely to find a son pakhad growing on exposed rocky terraces. (ABOVE RIGHT) The surface roots look like they have been ‘poured’ onto the rocks. (LEFT) The leaves are darker on their upper surface and more or less heart-shaped at base

bark pale grey or bony white but also tinged rusty-purple at certain times; white lenticel dots in horizontal arrays
leaves variable in size, usually about 12cm long, more or less egg-shaped with a slight or pronouncedly heart-shaped base; felted-hairy on top at first, later smoother and leathery; densely woolly-hairy underneath and specially the leaf-buds, leaf-stalk and twigs; like the baddh leaf, there is a pale green gland underneath, just above the top of the leaf-stalk
figs are small, without stalks, in pairs or tightly clustered at the ends of twigs; densely woolly-hairy with prominent protruding apical scales



Pradip Krishen, is an Indian filmmaker and environmentalist. He has directed three films, Massey Sahib in 1985, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones in 1989 and Electric Moon for Channel 4, UK in 1991. His films have won significant Indian and international awards, and In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones acquired cult status in the years after it was made. He subsequently gave up filmmaking, and since 1995, has worked as a naturalist and environmentalist.
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Jungle Trees of India Pradip Krishen
Publication: December 2013 Price: Rs 1500
Format: 10.5” x 6.7” paperback Page extent: 394 pp
Photographs: full colour, over 1300 photographs
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The Jungle Trees Of Central India